How to Stay Safe This Summer: 24 Hazards to Avoid
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How to Stay Safe This Summer: 24 Hazards to Avoid

Jun 22, 2023

Splashing in the waves! Hitting the road! Going to shows! These are some of the joys of summer, and if ever there was a time when we could all use more joy, it's summer 2023. So why, you ask, are we pointing out all the risks that come with the season? Simple: By being well briefed in advance, you can enjoy yourself more — confident that, in the unlikely chance something dicey comes up, you’ll be prepared for it.

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To help, we’ve consulted professionals with expertise in all aspects of summertime activity. Heed their suggestions, be careful out there, and make this a fabulous summer for you and your loved ones.

Protect yourself from …

Extended power outages. In early May, AccuWeather was forecasting hotter-than-average summer temperatures over much of the U.S., along with moderate to severe chances of extreme weather in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. Combine that with overloaded electrical grids and you get conditions ripe for blackouts, brownouts and power shortages. Because water is critical when the power goes off, store in your home at least 3 to 6 gallons of bottled water per person — enough to last three days — along with chlorine dioxide tablets to purify additional water, if available nearby. Be sure you have a manual can opener in your kitchen, since you’ll likely be eating out of the pantry. Also have on hand flashlights, battery-powered lanterns and spare batteries; solar-rechargeable lanterns are also a good idea in sunny areas. But skip the candles; one study found that 24 percent of fatal home candle fires happened during outages. —Tony Nester, survival instructor and author of When the Grid Goes Down: Disaster Preparations and Survival Gear for Making Your Home Self-Reliant

Fire risks. Home fires, which spike around July 4 but can happen in any season, burn with astonishing speed nowadays, in part because of open floor plans and synthetic home-goods materials. On average, you have three minutes or less to escape, versus about 17 minutes a few decades ago. If you’re on an upper floor and have only one staircase, you need an alternate exit plan — one that might require readily available gear, like an emergency ladder. Check all smoke alarms at least twice a year; they should be on the ceiling or high on walls on every level of the house, inside every bedroom and outside sleeping areas. Sleep with your bedroom door closed to buy some protection against a fire's smoke, carbon monoxide and soaring temperatures. Finally, don't cause fires. While smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths in older adults, cooking fires are the leading cause of fire-­related ­injury. When pans are on the stove at any temperature, stay close and keep a watch on them. —Steve Kerber, executive director, UL Fire Safety Research Institute

Bug infestations. Climate change means pest migration. Nearly half of participants in a 2022 survey said their home had sustained damage from insect pests like termites and wood-boring beetles. Making matters worse: The highly destructive Formosan termite is expanding its range in warm areas of the U.S. Regular termite inspections and professional treatment as needed can prevent or knock out an infestation; call for help if you see warning signs such as pencil-thin mud tubes along your home's foundation or discarded wings after a termite swarm. Bedbug infestations rise in summer too. If you travel, keep these bugs from hitching a ride home by inspecting hotel mattresses for dark or reddish spots, keeping your suitcase on a luggage rack and unpacking clothes directly into the washing machine when you return home. —Blake Layton, entomology specialist, Mississippi State University Extension Service

Crazy cooling bills. Because up to 30 percent of a cooling system's energy usage can be sapped by leaks and cracks, use caulk or weather stripping to keep your air-conditioned air inside. Next, help it circulate by moving furniture, plants and objects that block air registers and vents. Consider buying an internet-connected smart thermostat, which can save you up to 10 percent on your annual cooling bill; you might save even more if your utility company offers a rebate on the purchase. Close curtains and blinds on sun-facing windows to block rays that naturally increase indoor temperatures. And when you’re warming up food at home, use a microwave oven if possible; it cooks efficiently and minimizes heat buildup. —Adam Cooper, managing director, consumer solutions, Edison Electric Institute

Grilling mishaps. More than 19,000 burned barbecue chefs and their hungry guests end up in emergency rooms every year, and an average of 4,900 structures are damaged by fire — most from gas grill fires. So before the start of grilling season, check the tank hose and connection points for leaks or breaks; spray them with a light solution of soap and water while the propane tank valve is open. If you see bubbles, shut off the tank, because there may be a leak. If you smell gas when lighting the grill, turn off the tank, then the grill. Keep your grill clean, since built-up grease and drippings cause many fires. Should a grill catch fire, shut the lid to cut off the oxygen supply, if you can do so safely; then close off the gas tank and turn off the grill. Don't use a fire extinguisher, which can spread flames. —Susan McKelvey, spokesperson, National Fire Protection Association

Knowing the red flags once helped us spot scams. But these days, many scams are virtually unrecognizable as scams, such as fake travel sites and messages from people pretending to be relatives trapped in foreign jails. We face sophisticated criminal enterprises, so it's more important than ever to shore up our defenses.

—Kathy Stokes, AARP's director of fraud prevention and a nationally recognized expert in fighting fraud

Home-repair scams. Summer typically brings an army of scam contractors going door-to-door. They’ll claim they just happen to be repaving a driveway nearby and have leftover material, or they’ll offer to repave your driveway for a really low price. If you bite, here's the likely outcome: They will take your money and do the work shoddily, fail to finish it or not do anything at all. The bottom line is that you should beware of anyone offering to do work unsolicited. Instead, do the shopping and picking yourself. Get referrals from family, friends and others, and then get multiple bids on the job. Before agreeing to work with one, verify the contractor is insured and complies with licensing and registration required by your state. Scammers target older homeowners. The Better Business Bureau says consumers are left with a median loss of $1,500. —Tobie Stanger, senior editor, Consumer Reports

Garden accidents. Mishaps involving lawn mowers and other power garden equipment sent more than 112,000 adults to U.S. emergency rooms in 2021. But handheld tools pose a hazard too: They injured another 43,000 people. So don't work outside if you’re distracted, overheated or overtired. Don't let grandkids ride on the mower with you. Shut all gear down completely before cleaning or adjusting. Take frequent breaks and stay hydrated, especially on hot days and while doing strenuous work. Wear gloves when using hand tools, since mature skin is less resistant to cuts, scrapes and punctures. Avoid working in uncomfortable body positions; for example, pot plants at a table or gardening bench rather than on the ground. Finally, put a mat or folded blanket under your knees when kneeling. —Alyssa Spence, associate director, North Carolina Agromedicine Institute

Protect yourself from …

Distracted drivers. There's no way to know if the drivers around you are texting or eating lunch or both. Your best strategy to avoid deadly accidents is to rely on defensive driving best practices. Use the "what if" strategy: As you are scanning the road, ask yourself, "What if that car runs that red light?" or "What if the driver ahead of me is reading a text?" Doing this allows you to respond to the situation and choose the most appropriate defensive action, such as covering the brake and/or increasing your following distance. Speaking of phones, set yours to "do not disturb" while ­driving, and put it in a spot where it won't slide around but will still be accessible in an emergency. —Ryan Pietzsch, driver safety educator, National Safety Council

Road rage. Start with prevention, not provocation. Drive with common courtesy: Let others merge or change lanes, drive at a speed comparable to those around you, use your turn signals and don't tailgate. Tap (don't blare) your horn only as a last resort. Show restraint if a fellow driver does something illegal or inconsiderate. Avoid angry hand gestures, honking or cursing. If you find yourself dealing with a hostile or ­aggressive driver, don't engage. Keep driving calmly. If it escalates further, get to a public place, such as a police or fire station. Stay in your car. If you feel at risk, call 911. —William Van Tassel, manager of driver training, AAA

A stranger behaving erratically. Remain calm. Move away if you want to and are able to do so casually. If you, the person or someone else is in immediate danger, call 911 or, even better, 988 — a new national mental health emergency number. If you call 911, tell the dispatcher it's a mental health emergency and ask for a mental health support response team. If the person confronts you directly, use a quiet and respectful tone; reacting with high-intensity emotion may escalate the situation. A compassionate statement from you — such as "I’m sorry you’re going through this" — may help calm the person down. —Michael Flaum, M.D., immediate past president, American Association for Community Psychiatry

Getting hit by a car. More than three-quarters of pedestrian ­fatalities in our research happened after dark, compared with less than a quarter during daylight, dawn or dusk. When crossing the street, use only designated crosswalks, which often have better lighting to make you more visible to drivers. If you absolutely have to cross a street somewhere without artificial lighting, try using your cellphone's flashlight. Shine it ahead of you to make yourself more visible to drivers. If you regularly walk for exercise or have a dog that you take for walks, consider investing in clothing that makes you more visible. Alternatively, buy some reflective tape that can be easily applied to a jacket, shoes, dog leash or collar. —Pam Shadel Fischer, senior director of external engagement, Governors Highway Safety Association

Deer collisions. Deer are most active at dusk and dawn, so that's when your awareness should be highest. But deer-vehicle collisions can happen to anyone at any time. (In 2021, 18 percent of reported Michigan vehicle crashes — 52,218 of them — were deer-related.) If you’re driving by mountains, woods or agricultural fields, there are probably deer in and around those habitats. Take wildlife crossing signs seriously; moderating your speed gives you more time to react. Stay alert and don't get distracted. If it looks like you’re about to hit a deer, don't swerve. Hitting the deer will often do a lot less damage than what could happen from swerving, like going off the road or crashing into a telephone pole or another car. Slow down if you can; if there are no drivers behind you, brake hard. —Chad Stewart, deer biologist, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Protect yourself from …

An office, a mall, a library: Shootings can happen anywhere. Active shooter situations are often over in minutes, before law enforcement can arrive. So prepare yourself with these recommendations from the U.S. Department of Homeland ­Security.

When law enforcement arrives … ​immediately put down any items, keep your hands visible and raise your arms. Follow instructions. Refrain from making quick movements toward officers or holding on to them for safety. ​

—Niamh Rowe

Dangerous crowds. Summertime is festival time: stadium concerts, fairs and crowded street parties. So please remember that the crush that killed more than 150 people at a South Korean street party last fall went from exciting to deadly in minutes. To reduce your chances of falling over or tripping, wear shoes that protect your feet, not high heels or sandals. As you arrive, take a moment to look around and plot an escape just in case: Where are the entrances and exits that may be closer and less trafficked than where you came in? If a crowd becomes uncomfortably dense, bend your arms and lift them in front of you like a boxer. Then lock your hands, creating a cage to protect your chest and lungs; many crowd-disaster deaths result from chest compression that prevents people from breathing. Finally, stay on your feet. Don't risk being forced to the ground while trying to pick up a phone or handbag. —Martyn Amos, professor of computer science at Northumbria University in the U.K., and coauthor of studies on crowd behavior

Room bandits. Before you book a room, make sure your lodging is in the safest part of the city. Call ahead or email hotel management to ask about security precautions: For example, what controls are there on access to the main entrance and to room areas? At the hotel, take a few simple precautions. Put the Do Not Disturb sign on your door even when you are not in the room, to make it appear occupied. Use the safe in your room for locking up valuables and important documents such as passports. Finally, never share your room number with anyone outside your travel party. —Henning Snyman, security director, South Atlantic U.S. Region, International SOS