According to the National Retail Federation’s 2013 Independence Day survey, seven in 10 Americans who plan to celebrate the 4th of July this year will attend a barbecue, cookout or picnic. That amounts to 164 million people enjoying a flame broiled burger or two, a record number compared to previous surveys.
If you’re one of the millions who will be grilling this holiday weekend – or anytime throughout the season, here are tips to avoid four common outdoor party mishaps.
Party Mishap #1 – Sparks Gone Wild
9,600 fireworks-related injuries were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2011, according to the most recent data published by the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA). The data also shows that fireworks cause two out of five reported fires on a typical Independence Day, more than any other cause of fire. Definitely a party downer.
Erie Insurance has seen both personal injury and property damage claims caused by fireworks, including one in which a customer set off fireworks in a yard and the sparks landed on a neighbor’s house, catching it on fire. An estimated 17,800 fires across the nation were started by fireworks in 2011, causing $32 million in property damage overall.
How to avoid it: Leave fireworks to the professionals, use sparklers with care
“Fireworks are wonderful way to celebrate our country’s birthday, but we recommend watching them at a community-sanctioned location, rather than setting them off yourself,” said Matt Myers, senior vice president, Claims at Erie Insurance. “There are just too many things that can go wrong, especially in a group of people and when children are nearby.”
Myers added that if you allow children to play with sparklers, which NFPA says account for a quarter of all fireworks-related injuries, you should extinguish them completely in water to avoid having them unexpectedly reignite.
Mishap #2 – Singeing the Siding
Nothing beats the taste of barbecue or a burger cooked in the back yard, but when the grill gets too close to the house, siding can get singed (or worse). With more than eight out of 10 U.S. households owning a grill or smoker,* this is a safety precaution almost everyone needs to heed.
“It’s not just the flames from the fire that can be a hazard,” said Myers, “but the radiant heat from the grill can melt vinyl siding, and can even catch a house on fire.”
How to avoid it: Give the grill lots of room
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends grills be placed at least 10 feet away from any structure, and that they never be used in a garage, breezeway, carport or porch, or under any surface that can catch fire.
ERIE also cautions against pouring lighter fluid over hot coals, which can cause a flash fire or explosion. If you dump hot coals on the ground after the barbecue is done, thoroughly douse them with water to make sure they are completely out.
Mishap #3 – Having the Bottom Fall Out
More and more people are gathering around fires made in fire pits designed for patios and back yards. But while fire pits can be a great addition to an outdoor space, it’s important to remember that anything that involves fire is inherently risky.
“We had a claim where a customer started a fire in a fire pit not realizing that the bottom had nearly rusted out, and the whole thing, burning embers and all, collapsed onto the wooden deck and started a fire,” said Myers. “We’ve also seen a situation in which a customer thought the fire was out but the wind caught a spark, and that led to the deck catching on fire.”
How to avoid it: Never put a pit on a wooden deck and check the bottom
Follow these fire pit safety tips. Also, never put a fire pit on a wooden deck.
Mishap #4 – Unplanned Slippin’ and Slidin’
Swimming pools, trampolines, playground equipment, volleyball nets—these and similar items can really amp up the fun factor at an outdoor party. But these toys, swimming pools in particular, can be hazardous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports drowning as the leading cause of injury and death for children between the ages of 1 and 4.
How to avoid it: Use common sense
The best way to keep yourself, your family and your guests safe is to use common sense. “Even simple housekeeping, like storing toys and games out of areas where people can trip on them, can make your guests safer,” said Myers. “Using common sense, like not putting the volleyball net too close to the grill, can also make a huge difference.”
The CDC offers several swimming pool safety tips including that children learn to swim and be closely supervised when near pools or spas.
*Source: 2009 study conducted by the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association