Staying in the SAFETY ZONE

May 28, 1991|By Gerri Kobren

Summertime, and the living is dangerous.

The great outdoors tempts tan-seekers to abuse their skin in the sun. It pulls people out of their depth in cool water, brings on overheating in long distance runners and bikers, and subjects various parts of your body to injury from unaccustomed kinds of work and play.

Chances are, you already know the common sense summer safety tips:

* Sun-worshipers need sunscreen to protect against skin cancer and sunglasses with ultraviolet filters to protect against cataracts.

* Mad dogs might go out in the midday sun, but road and court exercisers should do their thing either early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

* Bikers need helmets, swimmers need lifeguards, boaters need life jackets and fireworks need to be left to the professionals and enjoyed from far away.

But did you know that people who mow lawns need protective footwear?

Bare and sneakered feet are vulnerable to mower blades, so it's better to mow in hiking boots or golf shoes, says Dr. Mark Myerson, director of Union Memorial Hospital's Foot and Ankle Service.

And did you know you need protective eyewear when doing projects around the house or fixing your car?

"There's rust and dirt under the car," says Dr. Terrence O'Brien, director of the ocular trauma service at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "Any time you're underneath the car to change the oil or work on the muffler, and you're looking up, it is just inviting danger; gravity will send stuff into the eyes."

And you don't have to be lying down to endanger your eyes.

"When you're trying to build a patio or deck and working with hammer and nails, friction is created and little shavings of the metal can become projectiles," says Dr. O'Brien. "When you're using power tools, a tiny piece of metal can hit the eye with the velocity of a missile."

So can a baseball (players should wear face shields, he says) or a golf ball (when someone yells "Fore!" cover your head and duck; don't look up).

Hardware stores, sporting goods stores and eyeglass stores carry protective eyewear; weekend warriors should stop and shop before they head out to conquer the yard, the car or the playing field.

People also should stop and think safety before they try to conquer the ocean, pool or river.

"If you look at the drowning statistics, in one-half to two-thirds of situations people are swimming alone, or they never intended to get into the water -- they were fishing, boating, working or walking near the water, and had never learned to swim," says Scott Knox, director of the Red Cross district offices in Howard and Carroll counties.

So, first of all, you should learn to swim; and you should only do it where there's a guard on duty, and you should always wear your life jacket or flotation device when you're boating. If, for any reason, you're in a fast-moving current, don't fight it, Mr. Knox advises: "Try to relax, and let it take you to some place where the rTC water is more still, or try to swim diagonally against it."

Public pools are safer. But even your tiny backyard wading pool can be hazardous if a tiny child is left alone in it: kids can drown in a couple inches of water. If you've got a bigger, permanent pool, you have to have barriers all around it -- "and if one of the barriers is your house itself, be sure the doors are locked so a child cannot go out without an adult," Mr. Knox warns.

And, he adds, "In most backyard pools, diving should be off-limits. Most of the severe spinal injuries around water are the result of diving into 5 feet or less, but sometimes it can happen in 6 or 7 feet of water,too."

Also off-limits, now and forever according to experts, is the great American suntan.

Skin cancer has been linked to repeated sun exposure over time, and melanomas are associated with a blistering sunburn. One blistering burn doubles your lifetime chance of getting melanoma, according to Dr. Linda Lutz, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

But that doesn't mean beach bunnies have to live indoors; they just have to be careful. "I recommend sunscreen for everyone, from May to December," Dr. Lutz says. "I don't think anything less than a No. 15 is worth anything, and it is usually not necessary to use anything greater than 15, except for someone on medication like tetracycline, and for people who are very fair."

The SPF (sun protection factor) number describes your safe sun time: No. 15 protects you from overexposure for 15 times as many minutes as you'd have without anything. For most people, that adds up to several hours -- as long as what you're using has some staying power. Look for something sweat- and waterproof. And wear it whenever you're outdoors; you don't have to be by the waterside to get a sunburn.

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