101 DAYS OF SUMMER SAFETY

The Voluntary Protection Program flag flies proudly at the 148th Fighter Wing.  The 148th Fighter Wing has just been recertified as part of the VPP as a Star worksite—the Star status is OSHA’s highest rating. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ralph Kapustka/released)

The Voluntary Protection Program flag flies proudly at the 148th Fighter Wing. The 148th Fighter Wing was recertified in 2011 as a Star worksite—the Star status is OSHA’s highest rating and earned by organizations for their excellent overall approach to creating a safe work environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ralph Kapustka)

DULUTH, Minn. -- Imagine a hot July day on the lake. You're enjoying the day with friends, fishing till your heart's content. The fishing is great, friends are laughing, and the lake heat is the best thing to happen since ice-fishing opener.

With evidence of winter still all-around us, it could be hard to imagine the heat of summer and the joys of summer recreation. However distant it may feel though, summer is just around the corner. The calendar is committed to this.

Summer brings an abundance of activities, which we all enjoy. However, the season also brings a long list of dangers and unforeseen hazards. Summer recreation such as water sports, fishing and vacationing normally starts prior to Memorial Day and continues through Labor Day. This timeframe encompasses the "101 days of summer" which will soon be upon us. 148th Fighter Wing leadership along with the Wing Safety Office want to ensure we are all prepared.   

In an effort to heighten involvement in the Safety Office's goal towards safety excellence during the summer and throughout the entire year, the office will be undergoing a Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Inspection April 25 to April 29, 2016.  This inspection will be led by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The VPP demonstrates utilizing personnel, gaining leadership commitment to safety, preventing and reporting hazards, analyzing the worksite, and providing safety and health training. VPP stands for "good" safety programs becoming excellent.

In the VPP, management, personnel and OSHA establish cooperative relationships at workplaces. Approval into VPP is OSHA's official recognition of the outstanding efforts of employers and employees who have achieved exemplary occupational safety and health. In other words, great job 148th!

The safety message does not end after the VPP inspection however. Taking an extra step and thinking twice is necessary to enjoy the 101 days of summer safely. Safety and Occupational Health Manager, Master Sgt. Sean O'Connor states, "Historically, the majority of fatalities occur in private motor vehicle accidents. Inattention, fatigue, traveling too fast for conditions, and alcohol abuse are the common causes to these mishaps. The keys to ending these senseless fatalities and staying alive are: defensive driving, seatbelt use, helmet use, using designated drivers, personal risk management and using good common sense." 

According to O'Connor, about 48% of all traffic fatalities involve alcohol. "An intoxicated driver is 15-times more likely to be involved in a crash and to be fatally injured than a sober drive," said O'Connor. 

In addition to driving safely, motorcycle drivers should take some extra steps before driving. Use the acronym T-CLOCs to remember the parts of your motorcycle that need to be checked. T-CLOCs stands for tires, controls, lights and electronics, oil and fluids, chassis, side or center stands. 

Another surprising figure compares cell phone use while driving to the blood alcohol concentration of .08%. Whether it's hand-held or hands-free, cell phone use will delay a driver's reaction. Look at this number and envision your daily commute: 37%. Driving while using a cell phone reduces brain activity by 37%. After hearing that fact, continue to envision yourself driving on your after-work commute. You're fatigued by the long day of work, hungry for dinner, and in a rush to get the kids. Your wife texts and you glance down for no more than three seconds and suddenly your life and the life of an unsuspecting biker on the road changes forever. Putting away your cell while driving could have been the life-saving step. 

Vice Commander of the 148th Fighter Wing, Col. Christopher Blomquist, would also like members to think twice about mixing alcohol and summer projects. "As we approach summer we want to work on our list of projects around the house or cabin. Before we tackle those projects ensure we use proper equipment in good working order. Please include yourself in that decision process. Far too many people get injured or hurt someone else while operating tools, equipment or recreational vehicles after a drink or two. Operating any motor vehicle under the influence is pretty clear-cut.  However, we need to think about lawn mowers, power tools, ladders and other situations where we need our wits about us. That concept should extend into our recreational plans. Please wait until that project or adventure is finished before relaxing with your favorite adult beverage. Too many lives are altered by impaired decisions or reactions. Please stay safe!" said Blomquist.

Many of us will be frequent mariners on the lakes this summer. Boating safety brings topics that many new or novice boaters may not be aware of. The essentials in boating safety include wearing a life vest, navigational lights, weather awareness, fire extinguishers and no alcohol use while driving.

The Fourth of July is one holiday that could easily encompass all activites we've talked about so far including driving, boating and alcohol use. While practicing safe recreational activities there is one area that many of us may take too lightly in the safety department during this favorite holiday. Fireworks safety is the unforeseen danger that leaves thousands with severe burn injuries every year. 

According to O'Connor, every year 10,000 people suffer firework burn injuries in the U.S., 16% are from sparklers, of those, 57% of sparkler injuries suffered are in children under five. If not handled properly fireworks can cause serious burn and eye injuries in kids and adults. O'Connor recommends to always have a bucket of water and a hose nearby in case of an accident. He advises to wear eye protection and to never relight a "dud". Alcohol abuse while handling fireworks dramatically increases the injury risk.

Firework safety is also a matter of public responsibility. O'Connor advises that it may not be legal to light fireworks from your home property. Checking with your local police or fire department is recommended. It may be necessary to obtain a burning or firework permit.

So what is your role in the 101 days of summer safety? Your role is all encompassing and affects many decisions throughout the summer. The VPP recommends to make eliminating hazards a habit through four steps - look, think, act, and report. Take a moment to look at what you are about to do. Think about everything that encompasses your task; from what can harm you, to working order, to personal protection. If you believe you could potentially harm someone else, act on your thought and tell them! If you can't handle the task yourself, ask for help. Should an incident occur, report it to your supervisor, even if it was handled. Alternatively or in addition, you can contact the Wing Safety Office and have the right to report anonymously.

Before we begin the summer heat, it's important to recognize and take action on safety steps that if ignored, could change your life or the life of others forever. Enjoy your lake time, vacation time, and road-cruising time completely ice-free, but remember the life-saving steps that could make 101 differences.