Summer Safety Tips for Children and Parents

Summer is a fun-filled season for kids, but it is also the time of year they are most likely to end up in the emergency room with an injury. They play outside more often than other times of year and have increased exposure to the sun, insects, and contaminated food and water. They spend more time riding bicycles and skateboards, swimming in backyard pools or lakes, sitting around campfires and backyard barbecues, lighting fireworks and playing near lawnmowers. Additionally, outdoor toys can collect bacteria and become damaged or chipped.

With the slew of recent toy recalls and the increased risk of injury during the summer months, it is important to be vigilant about safety and to review your safety measures.

Sun Exposure

For babies under 6 months it is important to avoid sun exposure. Be sure to dress infants in lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts and wide brimmed hats - cover the arms, legs and neck. Apply a small amount of sunscreen to any exposed skin such as the face, hands and back of the neck. If an infant becomes sunburned, apply cold compresses.

For children, be sure to apply sunscreen to any exposed skin 30 minutes before they go outside. Dress them in cotton clothing and have them wear hats with a brim and sunglasses. Try to limit their exposure to sun, especially during the peak hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Be sure to reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming or sweating.

Heat Exhaustion

When the humidity and heat are highest, it is best to limit intense activities to 15 minutes or less. You can gradually increase activity time over a two-week period as children acclimate to the summer heat. Have your children drink cold water or non-carbonated beverages every 20 minutes, even if they are not thirsty. Dress them in lightweight, light-colored clothing and change wet or sweaty clothes.

Pool Safety

If you have a swimming pool, you should install a gated fence four feet high around the area to prevent young children from falling into the water. Never leave children playing in the pool unattended, and be sure to keep rescue equipment, such as a shepherd's hook and life vests, in an accessible location. Have a telephone nearby in case of emergencies.

Insect Safety

Do not wash your children with scented soaps or shampoos. Bright clothes and flower patterns or floral scents can attract insects. Do not let your children play near stagnant bodies of water, flowerbeds or food gardens. Have them wear insect repellent to protect against ticks and mosquitoes when playing near woods or fields. Never allow children to play in any agricultural area that may have used pesticides. Insect repellents containing DEET are not recommended for very young children. Do not use repellents containing over 30 percent DEET on any child. Organic sprays are available on the market, and natural repellents can be made by soaking garlic or peppermint in water. Growing herbs such as thyme, rosemary, lavender, fennel and marjoram can help protect your backyard from mosquitoes.

Playground Safety

All playgrounds should have loose-fill materials such as sand, woodchips or bark maintained to a depth of at least 9 inches. Equipment should not have exposed S-hooks or protruding bolts. All swings should be made of soft materials such as rubber, soft plastic or canvas. Never attach children to ropes, lines or leashes that could strangle the child. Children on playground equipment should be supervised at all times.

Bicycle Safety

Stick with coaster brakes and training wheels until your child is experienced enough to handle hand brakes and two wheels. Shop for bicycles with your child so he can try out a bike beforehand, making sure that it is the right size and a comfortable fit. Oversized bikes are especially dangerous to inexperienced riders. Make sure your child wears a bicycle helmet at all times. Driveways and sidewalks near the house are just as dangerous as roadways and bike paths. Lead by example and always wear a helmet and use proper bicycle safety when riding with your children.

Skateboard and In-Line Skate Safety

Children should never ride skateboards or use skates near traffic or roadways. Make sure children wear protective equipment, pads and a helmet at all times.

Lawnmower Safety

Always use a mower that has a safety handle that stops the engine if the handle is let go. Children under 12 years should not use lawn equipment. Make sure anyone using a lawn mower wears protective hearing equipment and eye protection. Clear the lawn of any rocks, stones or toys before any mowing begins. Always wear sturdy shoes, never sandals. Be sure that the blades come to a full stop and engine is turned off before unclogging the machine.

Toy Safety

New federal safety rules and measures were passed in 2007 after a rash of toy recalls. In April of 2010, however, the Consumer Product Safety Commission granted many toy manufacturers the right to do their own in-house testing of products. The senior director of product safety at the Consumers Union, Don Mays, questioned the decision, saying, "There is the potential for conflict of interest ... it's a bit like the fox guarding the henhouse."

There is now the increased possibility of toys being recalled after they have already reached the marketplace. Before you buy a toy, be sure to read the labels and warnings on the package. Check the toy and make sure there are no parts that can be swallowed or cause choking. Be sure that toys do not have any sharp edges or points that can cut or puncture the skin. Do not buy young children any toys that use electricity or have mixable liquids or chemicals.

Be sure to monitor your children's toys for recalls. You can call the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 301-504-0580 and request a copy of their report on unsafe and recalled items, or you can visit CPSC's Web site. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group also compiles a report on toy safety; you can request a copy by calling 202-546-9707.

If one of your child's toys is recalled, you should take it from him or her immediately. If you have concern that the toys may have been contaminated with lead, you should take your child to the doctor for a checkup and have his or her blood tested. If the blood test shows high lead levels, be sure to take photographs of the toy, including any bite marks, and contact a personal injury attorney.

The Importance of Safety

The effects of brain or head trauma, disease or lead poisoning can have devastating consequences on your child's health. Taking extra safety precautions and inspecting your children's play areas, toys and equipment can prevent a lifetime of hardship. With outdated playground equipment, unregulated toy manufacturers and the increased chance of injury from summer activities, it is important to remain vigilant when it comes to safety. Take a few moments to review your safety measures before your next vacation or family outing.