JOIN THE NATIONAL SAFE KIDS CAMPAIGN
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Think of an elementary school full of children. How many are there? Most kindergarten through 8th grade schools have enrollment numbering in the hundreds. A few of the bigger ones might have a couple of thousand youngsters.
Now force yourself to contemplate something you'd rather not think about. Suppose there was a terrible accident that injured every single one of those children - or worse - not only in one typical school, but two or three.
Gruesome indeed. Like you, I'd rather change the subject. But stay with me a little longer because the purpose of this unhappy message is to: 1. draw your attention to a national problem that doesn't get the attention it deserves, and 2. tell you how to do something about it.
Those hypothetical schools full of children represent the more than 4,000 kids in the United States who get seriously scalded each year from common household tap water. Half are under five years of age. Death from scalding also is most common among children four years old and younger, and represents the third leading cause of death among children in this country.
To reduce this heart-wrenching toll, a number of organizations have joined together in the National SAFE KIDS Campaign (registered), a program of advertising, education, public relations and active participation in safety-related events. Perhaps you have seen some of the television commercials and print ads with the theme "The Most Painful Burn is the One You Could have Prevented." Also, last May some 80,000 school teachers nationwide received classroom activity kits focusing on another major aspect of household safety - the safe use and storage of gasoline and other volatile substances.
According to SAFE KIDS authorities, tap water scalds normally occur in the bathtub and therefore tend to be more severe than most hot liquid spills, because they cover a larger portion of the body. Yet while scalds are among the most common of household injuries, they also are some of the most easily preventable. Here are several simple steps to follow for "fail safe" protection:
1. Turn down the thermostat on your water heater to 120 degrees F. Older water heaters used to be set at 140 degrees F. Responding to safety concerns (and lawsuits) the manufacturers now ship them set at 120 degrees F. With 140 degree water it takes just 8 seconds to get a third degree burn. With 120 degree water, it takes 10 minutes - quite a difference. If you have an older unit, simply dial it down. The temperature control dial usually is located near the base of the unit. If you live in an apartment, ask the landlord or building manager to do this.
2. Install single-handle faucets and anti-scald valves. SAFE KIDS notes that tap water scald burns are almost always associated with twin handle faucets in the bathtub or sink. It is very easy for a child, or even an adult, to mistakenly turn on the hot water tap without mixing any cold. This is less likely to occur with a single-control faucet.
Shower valves also are available with automatic temperature and pressure balancing capabilities for protection against scalding. They also prevent many of the slips and falls that occur when people get startled by sudden changes in water temperature. Ask your plumbing contractor for the brand he recommends.
3. Parental supervision - First, always test the water temperature before immersing a child in a bath. Run your hand throughout the tub to make sure there are no hot spots.
Second, never leave a child alone in the tub, even for a few seconds to answer the phone. One second is all it takes for a child to turn on the hot water full blast. If you have an answering machine, activate it while bathing your child.
Another significant part of the SAFE KIDS campaign has to do with the increasing number of calamities that occur in conjunction with volatile substances unsafely stored near flames or ignition sparks - such as water heaters, furnaces or other appliances. Most of these accidents occur in the spring and summer months due to the prevalence of gasoline-powered lawn mowers.
Gasoline is one of the most dangerous liquids because of its low flash point. However, flammable or explosive vapors can also be spread by propane gas cylinders, lighter fluid, kerosene, cleaners, oil-based paints, fertilizers, floor and furniture polish, disinfectants, pesticides, weed killers, turpentine, hair spray and adhesives (glue).
Gasoline vapors are very heavy and can travel from room to room. If for some reason you are using it on the first floor of a home, in moments the vapors can make their way to an ignition source in the basement or attached garage, where the smallest spark can trigger a devastating explosion.
So please obey these simple guidelines when using gasoline or any other flammable liquid:
* Never use or store gasoline indoors.
* Use it only as a motor fuel, not to clean things or to start a fire.
* Fill lawn mowers, motorbikes, power saws, etc., only when the motor is cool.
* When using flammable liquids other than gasoline indoors, open doors or windows on each side of the room and turn off all ignition sources.
* Keep gasoline only in an approved, clearly marked container, and don't fill it to the top. (The vapor must have room to expand.) Make sure the container is tightly capped, and store it on a high shelf. Never store gasoline in plastic milk jugs or glass containers.
* Store gasoline in a cool place away from the house in a detached garage or shed. Never store it in the trunk of a car.
* Children should never use gasoline or any other flammable liquid.
The Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association offers a free Family Safety Activity Kit filled with educational fun for kids. Call 1-800-GAMA-811.