Summer Safety Tips

July 11th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

An expert weighs in to ensure that summer fun is safe fun.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

To most of us, the summer months conjure up images of grilling with friends and family, making s’mores over an open campfire, waving around sparklers and watching fireworks. To a safety expert, however, these summertime fun activities all share a common denominator: fire.

Consider these alarming figures – In 2009, 17,700 people went to emergency rooms because of injuries involving grills. Roughly half (9,400) of the injuries were thermal burns, with children under the age of 5 accounting for almost a quarter (22%) of them. Grill fires cause $75 million in direct property damage each year. And in 2010, U.S. hospital emergency rooms saw an estimated 8,800 people for fireworks-related injuries – most of which involved fireworks that were legal for consumers to use.

We asked Tom Harned, an engineering manager with Liberty Mutual Insurance’s Property Risk Engineering division to give us some tips on keeping safe while still indulging in summer fun. Harned, who is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist, works directly with customers and risk engineering consultants to address fire protection and property conservation needs.

You must have a whole different mindset about grilling, campfires and fireworks from the rest of us. Let’s start with grilling. How much does the incidence of grilling fires increase in the summer? What can people do to mitigate the risks?

Outdoor cooking is a great way to bring folks together over the summer. All of us want people to have fun at their backyard barbecues, but at the same time, play it safe. Almost a third of all grilling fires occur during the months of June and July. We’d like to remind people of some simple things they can do to keep grilling a safe part of summer. You can even create a grilling checklist that you place prominently in the house or yard:

• Always use your grill outdoors, keeping it away from siding and deck railing. Never use the grill in the garage, under a covered patio or awning, and definitely not on a porch or balcony. Of course, make sure to keep grilling away from kids and pets and make sure that no one is playing outdoor games around the grill.

• Keep your grill in the best shape: that means regularly inspecting for wear and tear, loose screws, and rust. If it’s gas, check the gas supply line for damages and replace it, if needed. If you’re using charcoal, use an electric or chimney lighter that allows you to use newspaper rather than lighter fuel.

• Never store your grill when it’s still hot or even warm. Wait until it cools completely before putting it away, especially if you use a grill cover.

As for whether you use a gas or charcoal grill, that’s a matter of taste. But 85 percent of fires involve gas grills, a sign of their popularity. Both give off carbon monoxide gas, which can make people sick. Gas grills pose an explosion hazard if gas leaks from the connections, or if ignition is delayed due to a faulty igniter. And charcoal grills have coals that can remain warm long after cooking is done.

Summer in general seems like prime time for fireworks and sparklers – and not just on the Fourth of July. How should you prepare for fireworks at home (assuming they’re legal in your area), and what can you do to ensure you and your friends and family don’t get hurt?

Thousands of people make trips to the emergency room due to injuries they receive while using consumer fireworks each year and as a result, we at Liberty Mutual Insurance think fireworks are really best left to the professionals. When it comes to fireworks, you are literally playing with fire – and in many states, you may even be breaking the law. We really think the best choice is to pack a picnic basket and catch some of the amazing fireworks displays hosted by professionals in your community. 

If fireworks are legal in your state, or if you happen to be at a gathering hosted by family members who have fireworks, here are a few things to keep in mind:

• Dress smart; no bare skin or loose clothing if you are near fireworks.

• Keep kids and pets far away from fireworks.

• Keep a fire extinguisher or water source such as a hose in reach, in case things get out of hand.

• Sparklers burn as hot as 1800 degrees Fahrenheit and can easily ignite clothing. Children cannot understand the danger involved and cannot act appropriately in case of emergency.

• Always use fireworks away from buildings, overhead branches or trees, and dry grass or other combustible fuels.

• Only light fireworks on a smooth, flat surface away from the house, dry leaves and flammable materials.

• If your fireworks fail to perform, leave them where they lay and back away. Sometimes an apparent “dud” can pack a dangerous surprise and letting it cool off completely without handling it is your safest bet.

What are your top tips for reducing the risks to property and people of outdoor flames, in things like tiki torches, fire pits, campfires and outdoor fireplaces?

Whether it’s grilling, cooking s’mores around a campfire, or candles that keep away the bugs, fire is even more unpredictable outdoors and can spread very quickly.

There are plenty of ways to ensure families stay fire-safe outdoors all summer long. For example:

• When using tiki torches for décor, be sure to plant them securely into the ground and ensure there are no low tree branches or other flammable overhead obstructions within reach of the flame. Keep the wick low and don’t overfill with fuel.

• If you’re having a campfire, be sure to build the fire away from dry grass and leaves so it will not spread. Keep plenty of water and a shovel around to douse the fire when you're done. Stir it and douse it again with water.

• If you’re using an outdoor fire pit or fireplace, make sure local laws allow it, and keep the fires small and at least 10 feet away from anything that can burn. Keep a bucket of water or charged garden hose nearby, and call 911 or your local emergency number if the fire gets out of hand.

• And again, the most important thing is to never leave any flame or fire unattended.

For the latest fire safety tips, and for more information on protecting your family and your property from fire risks this summer, visit Liberty Mutual’s Be Fire Smart website.