It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the US, and in spite of – or maybe because of – all of the terrible things happening in the world right now, it’s a time when I hope many of you will be able to get away from real life for a little bit to disconnect from the news and social media and reconnect with people you care about and who care about you. It’s the unofficial start of summer, so here are a few quick safety reminders that might not have been relevant for you for a hot minute (see what I did there?):
Protect yourself from the sun. Covering your skin with thin or loose layers can less hassle and more effective for long days than using sunscreen, and can remain cool if you choose fabrics wisely. Staying under shade when you can will also help. In the short term, sunburns hurt, and in the long term, sun exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer. Don’t hide from the day star entirely, though, because balance is important here too, as you should take the opportunity to soak up Vitamin D rays while it’s warm.
Know the signs of dehydration and heat illness, and how to avoid them. They can come on even if you aren’t out under the sun, especially if you are being more active than usual and aren’t yet acclimated to high temperatures. If you’ve started new medications since you’ve last spent significant amounts of time outside, they may also affect your ability to handle the heat. Be gentle with yourself on your first few summer outings, drink plenty of water, and don’t forget to eat.
Update prescriptions and supplies for allergies and injuries that you might suffer from spending more time outdoors, as many of us do in the warmer months. While studies have found that EpiPens for bee sting and other serious allergies can work after expiration, it’s always better if you can to have one that’s within the normal 18-month lifespan. It’s also a good time to update your “boo boo” and trauma kits to ensure that you are prepared for your extra outside time and other upcoming activities.
Keep bugs away, and not just the ones you are allergic to. I’ll include in here knowing how to repel all types of animals that you might run across. Mosquitoes and another biting insects can be annoyingly painful, but there are bugs and other critters who can seriously hurt you either with immediate bite trauma, venom, or infectious disease. Measures you might have to take range from bug spray to bear spray, and remember that they work in entirely opposite ways. For those of you who camp, you might also need to consider issues like keeping food away from scavengers.
Review fire safety if you’re planning on grilling or enjoying bonfires or fireworks. Many of us learn the basics as children and rarely think about them as adults, but burns and fires can be devastating. Even when they aren’t, they can certainly be annoying. Do you know how to ensure that your campfire won’t cause a forest fire? Are you able to treat a first- or second-burn without making it worse? Do you know when a burn will require professional medical assistance? Look it up now, not after you light a match or someone is already hurt.
Check food safety guidelines before your backyard party or picnic. It’s easy to forget what temperatures food should be held at to remain safe, and to track how long something’s been in less-than-optimal storage conditions. You might also be out of practice with figuring out how long to grill meats or how best to prepare and serve dishes that will be shared over an afternoon or evening. Since many of us will be returning to entertaining with friends, don’t forget to consider food allergies along with food poisoning.
Brush up on your water skills, particularly if you’ll be in unfamiliar environments or swimming with others. Ocean swimming is a lot different from pool time, for instance, and you might need to learn how to recognize and deal with rip currents if you don’t normally or haven’t since last year. And even though swimming is the type of skill you’re not supposed to be able to forget, consider scheduling some time to reacquaint yourself with it under calm and controlled conditions before committing to more challenging environments like a snorkel or dive trip.
For that matter, brush up on your skills for any other warm weather sport or activity you only participate in when the weather starts getting nice. Motorcycling, regular bike riding, hiking, camping, jet or water skiing, surfing, whatever it is that you enjoy doing when it’s warm and there’s no snow on the ground – they all have risks and safety measures that you might be rusty on. Give yourself an easy test run before you go on a big trip where messing up can have greater consequences.
And finally, most importantly, remember to take some time to get outside and just breathe. It’s been a tough couple of weeks, months, and years for many of us. Take advantage of the summer weather to go sit with nature a bit, not to do anything in particular, but just to be. You need it for your inner peace and without that, I think, there is no safety.