Summer Safety 101

Summer Safety 101

June 2015


In the United States, nearly half of all unintentional, injury-related deaths among children ages 14 and under occur during the summer. “Fortunately, by teaching and practicing accident prevention, parents and guardians can help their children enjoy the warm weather months more safely at home and outdoors,” says Dr. Brian Johnston, chief of Pediatric Services at Harborview Medical Center and an investigator at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center.

Read on for tips to help your family stay safe this summer:


Every year, 30 to 50 children are treated in local hospitals for injuries caused by falls from windows. Window screens do not keep children from falling. They are designed to pop out for fire safety and can be pushed out by the weight of a toddler. To prevent falls:

  • Supervise children and keep windows closed in upstairs rooms where they play.
  • Open windows from the top rather than the bottom.
  • Move beds, chairs, tables and other furniture away from windows.
  • Keep children from sitting on or jumping from windowsills.
  • Install window guards or stops to prevent windows from opening more than 4 inches.

Fire pits are becoming increasingly popular for outdoor entertaining. While some burn wood, others use propane or natural gas. Because they burn very hot, they should be treated like all other fires and campfires. Keep kids at a safe distance and teach them that fire pits stay hot long after the flames go out.

Lawn mowers are the major cause of foot and ankle amputations to children. Do not let your children ride on a mower, even with an adult. Mowers should not be used at dusk or night when it is difficult to see.


Swimming risks increase in rivers and lakes. Local waters are cold and swift and people tire more quickly. Precautions include wearing a life jacket, swimming with a buddy and knowing your limits. It’s always best to swim on a life-guarded beach in areas approved for swimming. Of course, young children should not be left alone, even for a moment, near pools or other bodies of water.

Boaters should wear life jackets, avoid alcohol and take boating education classes. Children ages 12 and under are required to wear a life vest on boats less than 19 feet in length that are moving. Children are much more likely to use life vests when adults on the boat are using them, too. In Washington State, a Boater Education Card is required to operate a boat with 15 horsepower or more for all people who are age 59 and younger.

As with all outdoor activities, take care to reduce the long-term risk of skin cancer while swimming and boating. Try to avoid exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun is most intense. Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply sunscreen generously at least one-half hour before sun exposure, and reapply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and immediately after swimming or sweating. To learn more about sun safety, take this interactive quiz.


Car seats for young children and seat belts for other passengers offer the best protection from injury and death in an accident. Once teens get behind the wheel, they should develop their driving skills by practicing in safe, calm and controlled situations. New drivers are granted an intermediate license that prohibits them from carrying other teens as passengers and restricts driving late at night. A sixteen-year-old carrying two friends in the car triples the risk of a crash. Add a third passenger and the risk is increased almost seven-fold.

Earlier this year in a study of distracted driving, UW researchers found that more than eight percent of drivers use electronic devices behind the wheel and as many as four percent of Washington drivers text. While all types of distractions should be avoided, drivers who text are 23 times more likely to get into a crash. This risk is equivalent to having a blood alcohol level more than double the legal limit.

For other activities on wheels, limit use of bicycles, scooters, skateboards and in-line skates to the daytime. Children should wear a certified helmet (bicycle or multi-sport) and other protective gear such as elbow pads, kneepads and sturdy shoes. While wrist guards are recommended for skaters and skateboarders, they are not suitable for scooters because they may interfere with gripping the handle and steering.


“We treat dozens of patients annually for serious and sometimes long-term fireworks injuries around the Fourth of July,” says Anne Newcombe, clinical director of Harborview’s Emergency Services. “While celebrating with fireworks is certainly an Independence Day tradition, it’s also a hazardous activity that can result in finger, hand and thumb amputations; severe burns; and permanent eye injuries.”

One key to preventing injuries, is not allowing young children to handle fireworks under any circumstances. Older children should only use fireworks under close adult supervision. It’s also a good idea to teach children the “stop, drop and roll” procedure should their clothes catch on fire.

If you plan to use fireworks, buy legal fireworks at approved stands. Talk to your kids about safety and let them know that fireworks are not allowed on school property. Also, be sure to point out that there can be serious legal consequences (including fines and prison sentences) if they cause injuries or damage through carelessness or by using illegal explosive devices.

Best advice: leave fireworks to the professionals. Go to a public fireworks display, enjoy a dazzling show and stay safe for next summer’s celebration.

For more summer safety tips or to request an appointment with a primary care physician, call 855-520-5151.

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M.D., M.P.H., Chief of Pediatrics at Harborview Medical Center at UW Medicine

Expertise Pediatrics

Clinical Interests Injury prevention, integrating mental health with primary care, and the care of children with mild traumatic brain injury

Research Interests Injury Prevention

Languages English