“Fourth of July is not cancelled this year…it will just look a little different.”  — Megan Willgoos

I love fireworks displays. Especially those with big finales.

As a safety professional, a homeowner, and a dog lover, though, I hate recreational fireworks. People suffer life-altering injuries, homes and other buildings are set afire, and man’s best friend huddles miserably under the kitchen table until the onslaught of recreational fireworks finally winds down

With the COVID-19 pandemic on the upswing in the United States, communities across the country are cancelling their annual Independence Day fireworks displays. We expect to see much more recreational fireworks as a result.

The Coronavirus is Still Out There

As much as we had all hoped that the worst of the pandemic would be behind us by now, the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is worse now than it has ever been. Which means that the safety measures that were a good idea in March are all the more compelling now. So, approach your Independence Day with all the measures in place that you’ve heard so much about over the past weeks: wear a mask, maintain social distancing, wash your hands thoroughly and often, sanitize frequently touched surfaces.

Not every locale has cancelled its Independence Day fireworks display, so there will be plenty of large crowds. And for many, a large gathering over the Fourth of July is a cherished family tradition. So, there will be lots of opportunities for mass exposure to anyone who happens to be infected, even if they are asymptomatic. Exactly the kind of exposure that has helped COVID-19 come roaring back.

Also, keep in mind that hospitals all over country are already approaching maximum capacity in their efforts to care for patients with COVID-19. So, don’t get hurt over the Fourth of July weekend.  There may not be room for you in the emergency room or intensive care unit.

Fireworks Safety

Some will seek to substitute the large public fireworks displays with their own private displays of recreational fireworks. I’m not going to encourage it; in many jurisdictions, recreational fireworks are simply illegal. But assuming you are going to do it, do it as safely as possible. While there is no such thing as a safe firework, there are certainly approaches to fireworks that are safer than others.

We had the good fortune of working with a pyrotechnician recently, and here are his top 10 tips for fireworks safety:

  1. Read and follow instructions on the packaging. They’re there for a reason.
  2. There should be no horseplay with fireworks. No “hot potato”. No throwing fireworks at others or bottle rocket wars.
  3. Handle fire works with caution. Sparklers burn at over 1200°F. If you don’t know whether a firework has been lit, treat it as if it has.
  4. Never look down or put any part of your body over the tubes from which larger fireworks launch.
  5. Choose a safe place to set off your fireworks. Not too close to trees, power lines, or buildings. Fireworks and their flaming fallout are capable of starting tragic fires.
  6. Pay attention to weather conditions. Dry grass is easy to light on fire. Don’t use fireworks if the wind gets too high or the ground too dry.
  7. Keep a hose, large buckets of water, or fire extinguisher readily available to put out any small ground fires that do start.
  8. Keep spectators a safe distance away from the fireworks launch site.
  9. Wear proper PPE: clothing made of natural fibers (which won’t melt to your skin when exposed to intense heat) and safety glasses to protect your eyes.
  10. Soak any duds in water before disposing.

Grilling Safety

Grilling doesn’t normally have the explosive hazard of fireworks, but where there’s an open flame, there’s a hazard. The folks at Nationwide Insurance put together a list of 10 tips for grilling safety.

  1. Grill outside and away from any structures and low-hanging tree branches.
  2. Make sure your grill is stable.
  3. Keep your grill clean of any grease or fat buildup.
  4. Check for propane leaks on your gas grill.
  5. If the flame goes out on your gas grill, wait at least 5 minutes to re-light it.
  6. Never leave a grill unattended.
  7. Don’t allow play near the grill.
  8. Don’t use flammable liquids other than charcoal starter fluid, and don’t add it to a fire that has already been lit.
  9. Wear clothing made of natural fibers (which won’t melt to your skin when exposed to intense heat) and keep shirt tails, sleeves, and apron strings from dangling over the grill.
  10. Keep baking soda, a bucket of sand, or a fire extinguisher readily available to put out a grease fire that flares up. Never use water to put out a grease fire.

Food Safety

Finally, let’s talk about food safety during summertime celebrations. A trip to the ER over food poisoning is no way to celebrate the Fourth of July. These 10 tips come from the CDC.

  1. Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before preparing, eating, or handling food.
  2. Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.
  3. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from foods that won’t be cooked, such as fruit, salad greens, and bread.
  4. Don’t put cooked meats back on the trays that held the raw meat until the tray has been washed.
  5. Cook food to a safe temperature.
  6. Keep hot foods hot, at 140°F or warmer.
  7. Keep cold foods cold, at 40°F or cooler.
  8. Throw away perishable foods that have been out at room temperature for 2 hours or more.
  9. Throw away perishable foods that have been out at 90°F or warmer for 1 hour or more.
  10. Store and reheat leftovers the right way: straight into the refrigerator or freezer in shallow dishes that will cool quickly, then reheated to at least 165°F before serving.

Stay Safe this Fourth of July

There are always safer ways to do anything—Fourth of July celebrations are no different. While there is no reason to obsess over safety during your celebrations, there is also no reason to make an unplanned trip to the emergency room. Safety professionals have a special obligation to set a good example for others. We hope these tips were just refreshers for what you already knew. If not, we’re glad to share them.

Happy Independence Day!