Summer’s here and we all want to get out and enjoy the weather. But to do so safely, it’s a good idea to have a few items ticked off your safety checklist, explains Andrew Johnston, an instructor-trainer with the Canadian Red Cross’s first aid program.
“It’s summertime; we want people to get outside, we want people to enjoy themselves, but it’s like anything else, you have to think about what potentially could happen, and have a plan for it,” he says. “Then, if something does occur you're better prepared to deal with it. If you have the plan, then you don't have to worry about it, you can just enjoy yourself.”
But in order to be summer safety ready, you need to know exactly what should be in your plan.
So, read on for the tips that Johnston, who’s also been a volunteer in disaster management and is a trained lifeguard, has offered to make sure you stay healthy and happy this season!
Let the sun shine
The cover up
Keeping covered up is one good way to help protect yourself from the sun. So, make sure you always wear a hat that protects your head, face and, ideally, the back of your neck, when you’re outside.
One of the first things to buy when getting ready to enjoy summer weather is sunscreen. And while many of us are diligent about putting it on before we go outdoors, where we can get caught out is on reapplying, especially when we stay outside for longer than we thought we might, says Johnston.
“It’s one thing to put sunscreen on, but it’s another thing to keep applying it, especially with kids, because kids are way more susceptible to sunburns. Especially if they’re around water and it’s coming off,” he notes. “And despite what they may say about waterproof and sweat proof, most sunscreen needs to be reapplied on a regular basis.”
To help avoid forgetting to reapply, make sure you take some sunscreen with you whenever you’re out and about, just in case, even if you only intend it to be a short trip.
How to take care of sunburns
We should all strive to avoid sunburns, but they happen to the best of us on occasion. But what’s the best way to treat one? Johnston says that it’s important to lower the skin’s temperature as soon as possible. “One of the issues with sunburns is we tend not to notice them until hours later. And what’s been happening over that period of time? The skin’s been cooking,” he explains. “So, you suspect, ‘oh I was out there a little bit too long,’ you know what? Cool down the skin. Soak it in cool clean water or use cool compresses on top to stop the burning. Once you’ve cooled it down, then you could put on aloe afterwards.” Aloe can help soothe burned skin, he says, but if you put it on before the skin’s temperature has gone down it can trap the heat in and cause it to cook even more. And if using aloe, or any other substances like sunscreen, for the first time, Johnston suggests you apply it to a small area at first, just in case you have an allergic reaction.
When you’re out in the sun, it’s easy to become dehydrated, especially if you’re doing an activity like playing sports, or even gardening (digging new beds is not easy work!). To avoid sun sickness and dehydration make sure to keep up your water intake. To help keep you on track, pick up a water bottle that you can easily tote around, no matter where you’re going or what you’re doing.
Bugs are a reality of summer life, but with the proper tools we can co-exist just fine. A big worry when it comes to creepy crawlies is the transmission of Lyme disease from ticks. If you’re headed to a known tick area, or one with an abundance of long grass, if you can, wear long clothing and tuck your pants inside your socks to limit their access to your skin, and be sure to do a thorough inspection for the critters after you leave. Giving kids a bath is one way to help make finding them a bit easier.
If you spot one, luckily, notes Johnston, tick removers are much easier to find these days. Check circulars for deals on these at your local drug store. It’s very important to remove ticks as soon as possible, as doing so within 24 hours of being bitten by one reduces the likelihood of Lyme disease being passed on, he says.
One other buggy woe in summer is the possibility of getting stung by a wasp or a bee. If you’re dealing with a sting, and notice that the stinger is still in there, Johnston suggests using the edge of a credit card to gently push it out, as if there’s a venom sac in the end, tweezers may cause it to release more venom.
How to care for burns
Summer often means spending time near fires; whether that’s cooking on a camping trip or enjoying time by a backyard fire pit. But with that fun comes the possibility of burns. As with a sunburn, the best treatment for this type of burn, notes Johnston, is to cool it down either by pouring clean water on it directly, or placing a cool compress on it. That’s why it’s important to always have a source of clean water. Lake or a creek water, for example, won’t do, he says, as there may be bacteria in there, which could be introduced into the wound. So, if you’re camping, always keep a jug of clean water on hand, just to be safe. Aside from burns, clean water is also a safe, and typically allergy-safe, way to clean any cuts or scrapes you may get while out in the wilderness.
Anyone who goes out on a boat, no matter what type, no matter their swimming ability, needs to always wear a Transport Canada–approved, or, in the U.S., a U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jacket. If you don’t have one that’s designed for your weight, then that is a must-buy for summer safety on the water. “Every year we get stories of adults who drown while boating. In some cases, there’s alcohol and a lot of cases there’s no alcohol involved,” explains Johnston. “People think, ‘I’m a good swimmer,’ but you know what? You get thrown into water, it can shock the body and your instincts start to kick in and they’re not always the best.”
One thing that Johnston says everyone should have in order to be safe in summer is a first-aid kit. But, you need to tailor your kit for where you’re going to use it. At home, Johnston says what you typically deal with is cuts, so make sure you have bandages and gauze. You’ll likely have clean water at home, which again, is the best thing to clean a cut with. You probably won’t be dealing with a wound that involves more serious bleeding, but if you do, a clean towel works well to contain the bleed.
He also suggests having ice cubes on hand, just in case you need to make an ice pack to put on a bump or other injury.
For a boat, Johnston says bandages and gauze, plus a thicker pad to contain more serious bleeding would be essential. And, it’s a good idea to have a jug of clean water and some wipes to clean any wounds.
A first-aid kit you keep in the car should contain all of the above, plus a tourniquet to stop bleeding could be helpful in the case of a car crash. “If you have a more serious bleed, it’s potentially going to take longer for help to arrive, so you want to be able to take care of more serious wounds,” he explains.
On the road again
Summertime often means road trips, but before you head out, it’s very important to be prepared.
First, make sure you have a fully stocked car kit for emergencies. Johnston says that should include flares – remember to make sure they aren’t past their expiry date; a flag to mark your vehicle to let people know you need help; a supply of food and water; tea lights, which Johnston says can help keep you warm in your vehicle if you are stuck and it gets colder (just remember to handle them carefully and keep the windows slightly open to avoid building up carbon monoxide); a backup radio, either one that runs on batteries or powers up when you wind it (these ones may also have a USB charger on them); a flashlight; waterproof matches, and as mentioned above, a first-aid kit.
You also want to keep your vehicle gassed up so you don’t run out of fuel in a remote area.
Another smart move, Johnston notes, is to always make sure your cell phone is charged, and be aware when you’re driving through areas that don’t have cell service; then have a plan for how you’d get help if needed when you’re there.
It’s clear that thanks to the climate crisis we are dealing with more extreme weather in all seasons. Wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding are all part of the summer picture in some areas. Power outages are also often part of the scene when it comes to this catastrophic type of weather. And, the latter can also be the result of an overtaxed grid, as people crank the air conditioning to escape rising average temperatures.
All of that being said, it’s especially important to be prepared for emergencies in summertime. To do that, Johnston has several suggestions.
The first is to always keep gallon jugs of water on hand, and rotate them every year, so the water is fresh. “Depending on where you are, most bigger communities can still provide water in emergencies, but in some of the smaller communities, or if you rely on a well, and there’s an electric pump on there, you may actually not have access to that water,” he explains.
Other items to stock include cash (in an emergency, there may be massive lineups at the bank, or ATMs may be down due to power outages); tea lights; food; waterproof matches and a lighter; the types of batteries your devices need to run; an alternative cooking source (like a barbecue or a camp stove, and anything you’ll require to use it); flashlights; a cooler and ice packs so you can take perishable food to go if you need to evacuate (especially important if you have a baby who only eats pureed food); and a plan for where to meet if you have to evacuate. This is especially important, as you may not have cell service in a disaster situation, and will need to get out really quickly, as they did three years ago during the Alberta wildfires.
And, because evacuations often happen so suddenly, Johnston recommends always keeping your vehicle’s gas tank ¾ full, as gas stations may not be open in a disaster situation.
One last must-have is a crank radio, which can also charge devices. This is something Johnston relied on personally last September when there was a tornado in Ottawa.
“We were out of power for three days after the tornado, but we had a wind-up radio, and so we could listen to the news and find out what was going on,” he recalls. “Because one of the things we found is we didn’t know what was going on because the cell towers died pretty quickly, because they run on generators, and we couldn't get any help.”
While it may seem like a lot, taking these steps can help ensure everyone is able to enjoy many summers to come. If you need to pick anything up, you'll find the best prices on Flipp. We hope you all have tons of fun this season!