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COUNTDOWN TO SUMMER SAFETY BEGINS WITH SOME COMMON SENSE

AT LAST, the warm weather is here. It's time to tackle the landscaping, hang the hammock, light the grill -- and enjoy.

To help make this a special summer, here's a safety countdown:

10. On the road again. Whether traveling near or far, make your home safe and secure. The Police Community Services Unit of the Buffalo Police Department has the following tips:

Discourage burglars. Prune shrubbery away from doorways and windows; cut back tree limbs.

Don't hide keys in mailboxes, planters or under doormats. Make duplicate keys for family members on the go.

When you go on vacation, notify your police precinct; leave a name and number where someone can be reached in an emergency. Cancel newspapers and mail or, if uncomfortable with that arrangement, ask someone you trust to pick them up.

Hook up timers to lights and radio. Consider installing a telephone answering machine.

If you plan to be away for several weeks, line up someone to cut the lawn.

9. Breathe easy. Exercising outdoors in polluted air can be a health hazard, cautions the American Lung Association of Western New York. The reason? During exercise your air intake increases, and you breathe mostly through your mouth -- not your nose, the body's first line of defense against air pollution.

The ozone smog is worse during the warm-weather months. Smog levels also are typically highest during the early afternoon. To minimize exposure to air pollution, run or walk early in the day or in the evening. Avoid congested streets and rush-hour traffic.

8. Mind your SPFs. Careless basking in the sun may increase the chance of premature aging of the skin. Repeated exposure to solar radiation may increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

Moderation is key. Use sunscreen; pay attention to the numerical system on labels that helps consumers to select the best product for their skin type.

The SPF indicates the number of times longer it takes to produce sunburn when you are wearing a sunscreen than when you are not wearing one. The higher the SPF, the greater the protection. A minimum SPF of 15 is what most experts recommend.

7. Turn down the heat. Flushed skin, goose bumps and chills are the early warning signs of heat exhaustion. If you are exercising or working in the sun, drink plenty of water. Stop and cool off if you begin to notice the danger signs.

Also remember that kids won't come in from the heat to rest, cool off and drink some water unless someone reminds them. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends calling children in periodically.

6. Protect your pets. In warm weather, pets spend a lot of time outdoors exploring and digging for trouble. Watch what they eat, chew and swallow. Also make sure animals are up to date on vaccinations and heartworm tests.

"The most important concern in the summer is not to keep animals closed up in the car with the windows up," said George May, superintendent at the SPCA serving Erie County. "The heat builds up and can kill an animal.

"Dogs tied up in the back yard should have fresh water and an insulated doghouse; it keeps them cool in the summer and warm in the winter," he said.

5. Ssssh . . . don't listen. No one can ignore the neighbor who cranks up the chain saw early Saturday morning. But homeowners should be just as attentive to how they protect their ears from their own landscaping noisemakers.

"That ringing in your ear after using a machine or listening to loud music is nature's warning signal," said Sebastian J. Rosica, director of audiological services at the Northeast Community Achievement Center/St. Mary's School for the Deaf. The ringing indicates a temporary hearing loss, but repeated exposure to loud noises can cause a permanent one.

To protect the ears while operating lawn mowers, chain saws and other noisy machines, "wear double protection -- earplugs and hard-shell earmuffs," he said. Cotton balls don't work.

Other tips: Never go scuba diving when you have a cold and are unable to equalize pressure in your ears (this "Valsalva maneuver" is performed by holding the nose and mouth and blowing hard). Never allow children with tubes in their ears to swim in polluted water. And never, he said, put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow.

"If you have a sudden, unexplained hearing loss, get to a doctor tout de suite -- within 24 hours. Don't wait three or four days," he said.

4. Cook it carefully. Grilling out is great fun. But if you grill out often, try these tips from the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Avoid charring food by discouraging flare-ups (sprinkle water on flames), by trimming off fat before cooking, by pre-cooking foods in a microwave oven or boiling water to cut grilling time, and by not overcooking.

Minimize dripping fat. Tilt your grill so drips miss the coals, or cover the grill with aluminum foil punched with holes. Fat dripping onto a heat source becomes smoke that coats food, contributing to cancer risk.

Grill with trimmed, low-fat cuts of meat; try grilling fish in foil; and don't forget green and yellow vegetables, high in cancer-fighting beta carotene.

3. Welcome little ones. Summer means visits from grandchildren and other young house guests. Make them fun and safe. Remove household chemicals, cleansers and sharp instruments from low cabinets. Consider installing plastic latches on cabinets.

Plastic triangular bumpers can be installed over the sharp corners of tables and counters. Plastic inserts in unused electrical outlets keep children from poking fingers or metal items into the slots and getting a shock.

2. Safety on two wheels. This is motorcycle season. Unfortunately, it's also the time of year when accidents happen. Although helmets cannot guarantee survival in all motorcycle crashes, they can reduce the likelihood of head injury or its severity. Be sure to wear other protective clothing: eye protection, boots, gloves, heavy pants, a brightly colored jacket.

Bicyclists, too, should gear up. Wear helmets even on short trips.

1. Take the plunge. You've heard it before: Swim with a buddy; stay in areas that have a lifeguard, and stay out of water if you are tired, cold or overheated.

If you see someone in trouble, stay out of the water unless you are trained in lifesaving. Instead, try to reach the person or throw a life ring. The Greater Buffalo chapter of the American Red Cross offers other tips:

If you can't see the bottom of the pool in the deep end or if the water is cloudy, stay out.

Make sure of the depth before diving into the water.

Avoid swimming at night in unlighted areas.

Do not chew gum or eat while swimming. You could choke.

Do not push, shove or run near water.

Get out of the water if you see lightning or hear thunder.

Swim a safe distance from diving boards and slides; never swim near a dam or boat ramp.

Avoid swimming in river currents.

Blast off! It's almost summer. But make it a safe one.

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