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Summer Safety Tips, from Grilling to Swimming


By Michelle Brubaker   |   August 30, 2012

With summer right around the corner, many San Diegans will be firing up the BBQ and dipping into swimming pools to beat the heat. UC San Diego Health’s Trauma, Surgical Critical Care and Burns Division and Family Medicine experts offer summer safety and injury prevention tips as the temperatures rise.

Propane grills are used for outdoor cooking and barbequing. Many of these units have automatic electric ignition units. Some of the ignition units break, leaving the homeowner to light the grill with a match or extended lighter. Flash fires occur when there is a buildup of propane gas and the grill is lit by an unsuspecting person. This flame is very intense, lasting only a few seconds and can result in a burn to the face, upper chest and arms. If the propane has been on for a period of time, it may even saturate the lower portion of the grill where the tank is stored. The force of the propane build up can blow open the doors on the front of the grill allowing the fire to burn the legs. There are a few principles that should be followed so that you do not have a propane flash fire that occurs when there is a buildup of propane in the barbeque.

  • Make sure you are working in a well-ventilated outdoor area.
  • Have the barbeque cover open when lighting the grill to prevent a buildup of propane gas.
  • Use the built in electric ignition if possible.
  • If you must use a flame, try to use the portable lighters designed for this that have a six to eight inch extension on them so you do not put your hand in the grill to light it.
  • Only turn on the propane when you are ready to light the grill, and if it does not light quickly, turn off the propane and allow the unit to vent and then restart a few minutes later.
  • Keep the top of the grill open so the propane vents away from the grill.
  • Never let the propane continue to run without the unit being lit. This will create a very serious condition that may result in the propane flash fire.
  • Follow all the safety information that comes with your propane grill.

Charcoal barbeque grilling

Similar prevention methods should be used when lighting charcoal briquettes. Some companies manufacture briquettes that are pretreated so that when you put a match to them, they will light and the coals will begin to burn. Other charcoal briquettes require lighter fluid to be sprayed on the coals. 

  • When lighting the soaked briquettes, use a lighter with an extension and light from the bottom of the grill if possible, as the flames will move upward when it lights up and you don’t want your hand near this fire.
  • Resist the temptation to spray more lighter fluid on the burning coals, especially if there is an active flame.  This will only light up the fire more in an uncontrollable fashion.
  • Never use gasoline to start any grill fires or any other fires for that matter.  It is extremely flammable and is difficult to control.

Fire pits

Fire pits are now seen at campgrounds, beaches and in private residences. They may be made from metal, concrete or simply be placed upon the ground with a fire ring. Whatever the type of unit, they represent a potential fire hazard and must be approached with caution. Burn injuries occur in both adults and children. Small children are often injured after the fire has died down and the child unknowingly walks over smoldering coals. These coals may remain hot for more than 18 hours, even if they were buried with sand or dirt. Free-standing fire pits at private residences are typically made out of metal or surrounding brickwork and can become very hot, resulting in burns to the hands or legs.  

Hot coals

Many burn injuries are caused by hot coals or fires that have “burned out” in a campfire. The hot coals have a gray appearance and may not look hot, but they often are very hot.  Placing dirt or sand on top of the coals or fire will not stop the burning of the coals for many hours.  These coals have been shown to still be very hot more than 18 hours after they were buried – thus, they remain a fire hazard.  In addition, many campers have walked over buried coals causing a serious burn injury.  This is especially true if the fire was not contained to a designated campfire ring.   Feet burns occur in adults while both feet and hand burns occur in children.  Please place all coals in designated receptacles if you are required to move the coals out of the campfire ring.  When barbecuing, also place your hot coals only in approved receptacles.

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Swimming pools


Swimming pools are a source of exercise and entertainment, but this comes with the responsibility for safety. Childhood safety is an important issue to consider with backyard pools. Each year, 2,000 children are treated for submersion injuries, and 300 children under the age of five drown in swimming pools, usually in their own backyard. In most cases, both parents were home at the time of the event. Sixty-nine percent of parents were not expected to be around the pool area at the time of the near drowning; 70 percent of the adults supervising the children report the child had been out of their sight for five minutes or less.


  • Know your community’s regulations for pool fences and gates.  The gate should be at least five-feet high with a self-latching mechanism.  This can prevent 50 to 90 percent of accidental drownings.
  • Do not prop open the pool gate.
  • Consider putting in home door alarms that ring when the door is opened, especially a pool gate alarm.
  • Use power safety covers for pools.
  • Never leave the pool partially covered when kids are swimming as they might become trapped.
  • Keep potential “step stools” away from the fence and store patio chairs, planters and other climbable items away from your outside perimeter.
  • Never leave a child unattended near a pool.
  • Don’t use flotation toys as life preservers.
  • Do not assume your child is drown-proof even if they can swim.
  • Pools, hot tubs, bath tubs, toilettes and buckets with water can also result in a submersion injury in a young child.
  • Make sure your child swims with a buddy.
  • Eliminate temptation: Keep toys out of the pool and away from the pool area when not using the pool.
  • Teach kids to walk in the pool area and not run.
  • Don’t allow kids to chew gum or eat while they swim — they could choke.
  • For more information, please visit: Consumer Products Safety Commission

Bike Safety

Nearly 300,000 kids make a visit to the emergency department (ED) every year with bike-related injuries. Some result in death or severe brain injury. Requiring children to wear bike helmets lowers their risk of visiting the ED.

  • Check that your child hasn’t outgrown their bike. Have your child straddle the top bar of the bike with both feet flat on the ground.  If there is a gap of one to three inches between the bar and your child’s body, then it’s still the correct size.
  • Teach kids to ride on the right-hand side of the street, traveling in the same direction as cars.  They should never ride against traffic.

Sun Safety

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, kids who get one, blistering sunburn double their chances of developing melanoma. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that adults use at least one ounce of sunscreen, but there’s no set amount for growing children. The important thing is to cover all exposed areas — especially ears, tops of feet, backs of knees and hands.

Regardless of age and skin type (whether or not the skin burns easily), the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone apply a water-resistant sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays every day of the year — even in winter and on cloudy days.

  • Wearing protective clothing and hats is one of the most important ways of warding off UV damage.  Wet, light-colored clothing transmits just as much sunlight as bare skin.
  • Keep your kids covered with dark colors, long sleeves and pants whenever possible.
  • Wear sunglasses with UV protection to guard against burned corneas and hats to prevent sunburned scalps and faces.
  • Protective clothing, hats with brims and sunglasses are just as important for babies.  At the beach, bring along a large umbrella.

Heat Safety and Hydration

Staying hydrated in hot weather can help reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses. 

  • Water and sports drinks (drinks that contain electrolytes) are the best options for hydrating kids. Avoid sodas, juice and other fruit drinks. The National Alliance for Youth Sports recommends choosing beverages that contain 100 mg or more of sodium and 28 mg or more of potassium in an eight-ounce serving.  If choosing sports drinks, watch out for high sugar content.
  • Try to stay in a shady or air-conditioned location during the hottest parts of the afternoon. 
  • Kids are also at risk for heat illnesses if left in a hot car — even if the windows are cracked and it’s only for a few minutes. Never leave a child unattended in a car.