Cyberbullying tops parents’ fears about kids’ health

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via Cyberbullying threat to kids, parents say, clarionledger.com

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Most parents never stop worrying about their kids. From the time when we first find out we’re going to become parents, there’s always something to think about, events to plan for, and many of those things keep us awake at night.

While the list of fears may change as our kids get older, they never go away. Initial worries about our kids’ health in the cradle give way to worries about their journey through adolescence and college, and then to concerns about their careers, families and their own children. Of course, for most parents, most of the things we spend time fretting over never come to pass. But that doesn’t stop us from worrying anyway.

Every year, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan conducts a national survey to determine the things that make us parents toss and turn, producing a list of the top 10 fears of parents of kids from birth to age 18. And — predictably — that list of worries changes with the times. This year, the impact of social media and technology is making its effects felt, as two of the Top 10 parent fears (expressed by parents as something they’re “very concerned” about) are related to technology. Topping the list is bullying/cyberbullying, which more than six in 10 parents expressed as their top concern.

Of course, bullying is an age-old problem, but with smartphones and social media, just about every child is eventually going to encounter cyberbullying from one side or the other. This phenomenon has been linked to increasing suicides among teens, as well as heightened levels of anxiety and stress for many kids.

Being a teen is hard enough without having to worry about someone using social media to trash your reputation or spread hateful rumors. Cyberbullying is still being defined, but most experts agree it’s aggressive behavior that targets an individual using social media or other electronic communications. Given the ability of a single person to use social media to spread information quickly to lots of people, coupled with the emotional roller-coaster many teenagers experience as they progress through adolescence and the importance of reputation, it’s little wonder that it’s become a threat.

“Adults across the country recognized bullying, including cyberbullying, as the leading health problem for U.S. children,” noted Dr. Gary Freed, a Mott professor of pediatrics and the poll’s co-director.

Another tech-related fear of parents is internet safety, including the increasing danger for many kids whose online contacts may appear to be harmless acquaintances in online gaming or chat rooms, but are actually child predators or identity thieves. And concerns about “sexting” (the sending of intimate photos and sexually explicit content in text messages) are rising as well.

But technology (at least, directly) is just part of the picture of the things that make us worry. Parents are also agonizing over their kids’ health. Many parents expressed concern their kids are not eating healthy enough or getting enough exercise, and others worry also about the possibility their kids could fall victim to drugs or alcohol abuse. Also on the list were suicide and depression, teen pregnancy and stress in general.

When broken down by race, the survey produced some enlightening results. For example, while African-American parents expressed many of the same concerns as everyone else, their primary worry was their kids would fall victim to racial disparities and school violence.

Many parents worried about automobile accidents, and for parents of kids under 5, the fear of cancer and similar threats, although, Freed noted, “parents may have concerns about very serious conditions despite the small risk for them.”

If you’re among the parents concerned about cyberbullying, I recommend a great website called ConnectSafely.org. This site lists some common-sense responses to help stop cyberbullying, including some tips for parents on how to effectively address it with their children.

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Be safe when watching eclipse

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via Be safe when watching the eclipse, clarionledger.com

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Around midday on Aug. 21, much of the nation will be looking to the skies as a total solar eclipse will be visible across a wide swath of the country. It’s a big deal because solar eclipses rarely cross the U.S. where they can be seen by the masses. Marketers have jumped onto the eclipse bandwagon with total abandon, selling everything from signs and banners to special glasses guaranteed to enhance your viewing experience.

But, sun-gazers, be warned: Some products may not provide enough protection for your eyes when looking directly at the eclipse.

In case you missed that day in science class, a solar eclipse occurs when the moon comes between the sun and earth, causing near-total darkness in a narrow “path of totality” and a dimming elsewhere, depending on your location. Here in central Mississippi, we will see a partial eclipse that day (weather permitting), and if you want to see the maximum effect, the closest viewing spots will be just to our north in middle and eastern Tennessee. But while we won’t witness “totality” here, it will still be spectacular, with the moon chomping nearly 90 percent of the sun for a few minutes. (For an animation of what we can expect to see, visit http://bit.ly/2flwWUW.)

Of course, your mom probably told you never to look directly into the sun, and it’s good advice as doing so can cause severe injury to your eyes. But many people think it’s OK to do so during an eclipse, as the sun is darkened. Actually, many people have suffered permanent eye damage as a result of trying to look at the partially darkened sun during an eclipse or using ordinary sunglasses, telescopes or binoculars.

NASA, medical associations, and others have warned that we need to be extra-careful when choosing how we’re going to look at the eclipse. “The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” or hand-held solar viewers,” notes NASA in a post on its website. “Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun; they transmit thousands of times too much sunlight.”

Here are a few of NASA’s other tips for safe viewing:

Inspect your viewer. If your eclipse viewing device is more than a couple of years old, or if it’s scratched or damaged, don’t use it.

Avoid devices that concentrate the sun’s rays. Looking at the eclipse through a camera lens, binoculars, telescopes or other optical devices can be dangerous because they concentrate the sun’s rays onto a narrow point, potentially damaging your eyes.

Don’t assume your sunglasses will protect you. While most sunglasses do provide protection from UV rays in ordinary cases, they’re not designed to handle the brightness of looking directly at the sun. Check to see if your sunglasses are marked with the ISO 12312-2 certification. If not, get some that are.

Buy from reputable vendors. The American Astronomical Society has published a list of vendors selling products that provide adequate protection at https://eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters.

Some welding glasses are OK, but not all. NASA suggests, if you have access to a welder’s glass with a No. 14 rating, it should be safe. But not all welding glass meets this standard, so if you’re not sure it’s No. 14 or better, don’t try it. “Do not view through any welding glass if you do not know or cannot discern its shade number,” NASA warns. “Be advised that arc welders typically use glass with a shade much less than the necessary #14. A welding glass that permits you to see the landscape is not safe.”

And if you can’t be outside during the eclipse, don’t worry; another total event will occur in 2024 to our north and west, and if you’re still around in 2045, mark your calendar for Aug. 12 of that year, when the path of totality will pass right over us in central Mississippi.

FDA warns: Keep babies out of the sun

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Nashvilleparent.com

via FDA warns: Keep babies out of the sun, clarionledger.com

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In the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Ukraine on numerous occasions to support the work of local churches. Most who visit Ukraine find it’s a vast, beautiful and hospitable country, with its Delta-rich soil and generous people.

During one July outing in which we were helping a local church hold a vacation Bible school, we conducted several activities outside. It was summer and a bit hot (just like an average late-spring day for any Mississippi native, but practically a heat wave for the locals).

I thought it was curious that most of the kids wouldn’t emerge from the shade of the trees to take part in activities in the bright sunshine. When I asked a translator, he told me that it’s because Ukrainian parents don’t believe it’s healthy for their kids get a lot of direct sun, so they train them to avoid sun exposure as much as possible. Internationally, this attitude is becoming more and more common, as many countries deal with high levels of UV radiation and awareness of skin cancer risk is growing.

Maybe they have a point. We know exposure to some direct sunlight is beneficial to a point and helps the body produce essential vitamins, as well as having a number of other proven health benefits. But being out in the sun for extended periods also carries its own risks in the form of sun-damaged skin, skin cancer, and eye problems. While the use of sunscreens and protective clothing has been shown to reduce the skin’s vulnerability to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, many health experts say it’s best to limit our exposure. And that goes double for smaller children.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued some new guidelines for sun exposure in younger kids, recommending that infants under 6 months old avoid sun exposure entirely. “The best approach is to keep infants under 6 months out of the sun,” noted FDA pediatrician Hari Cheryl Sachs, “and to particularly avoid exposure to the sun in the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when ultraviolet rays are most intense.”

That may come as a shock to some parents, many of whom grew up in the sun. Sachs explained that, although sunscreens are fine for older kids and adults, babies’ skin (since it covers less surface area and is less mature) is likely to absorb the numerous chemicals contained in most sunscreen products, with unknown possible side effects.

In addition, she adds, babies can overheat faster than older kids and adults and can become dehydrated more easily.

“The best protection is to keep your baby in the shade, if possible,” she adds. “If there’s no natural shade, create your own with an umbrella or the canopy of the stroller.”

As for dressing your baby for a day in the sun, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts and brimmed hats that shade the neck. Avoid baseball caps, which (while cute) don’t adequately protect the neck and ears.

Here are some of the FDA’s other tips:

  • Keep your baby in the shade as much as possible.
  • Consult your pediatrician before using any sunscreen on your baby.
  • Make sure your child wears clothing that covers and protects sensitive skin. Use common sense; if you hold the fabric against your hand and it’s so sheer you can see through it, it probably doesn’t offer enough protection.
  • Make sure your baby wears a hat that provides sufficient shade at all times.
  • Watch your baby carefully to make sure he or she doesn’t show warning signs of sunburn or dehydration. These include fussiness, redness, and excessive crying.
  • If your baby is becoming sunburned, get out of the sun right away and apply cold compresses to the affected areas.
  • Give your child formula or breast milk if you’re out in the sun for more than a few minutes. Don’t forget to use a cooler to store the liquids.

To read the FDA’s article in its entirety, visit http://bit.ly/2vu4FBS

States passing laws to save kids, pets trapped in cars

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via States pass laws to save kids, pets trapped in hot cars, clarionledger.com

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Every year, with the hot weather comes tragic stories of how someone left a child in a hot vehicle, leading to death or serious injuries. Especially here in the Sun Belt, where we’re used to long, hot summers, cars can be a death trap if a child is left inside.

In the past three decades, nationally more than 800 children have died after being left in hot vehicles, and the organization Kidsandcars.org has documented 23 cases so far this year.

In one of the latest cases, a Tennessee couple was charged with murder after their 2-year-old son died. The couple allegedly left the child in a vehicle overnight and into the next day in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Cases abound, as an internet search will attest.

While the outside temperature can be tolerable, inside a vehicle it’s a different story. An enclosed vehicle acts as a greenhouse, with the sun’s rays warming the interior as their energy is trapped inside. The website heatkills.org reports that, even on a mild 70-degree day, temperatures inside a car can easily reach 104 degrees in 30 minutes. And at 90 degrees (we’ve seen those temperatures in the last week in central Mississippi), temperatures inside the car can soar to 109 degrees in 10 minutes, and after a half-hour to 124 degrees. Some studies have reported temperatures as high as 172 degrees when it’s 100 degrees outside.

Even at the lower end of that scale, heat-related deaths can easily occur. And although many people continue to believe that cracking the window for your pet helps, most experts disagree. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study in 2005 that opening a window a few inches does little to alleviate the temperature rise.

The spate of child deaths has rightly led to increased calls for action, as well as additional laws and demands for new technologies to keep these tragedies from occurring. According to kidsandcars.org, about half of the states have laws specifically making it a crime to leave a child or pet in a hot vehicle (Mississippi, regrettably, does not.) Hopefully, as states around the nation take legislative action, these laws will also include language to protect pets.

Frequently, an endangered pet is discovered by passersby. Bystanders who see a potentially deadly situation have a decision to make. While many courageous people have risked lawsuits and even personal harm by breaking into an unattended vehicle to rescue a trapped pet, others might fear the repercussions of taking action.

Recently, several states have passed laws to protect people who must break into a vehicle to save a pet trapped inside. For example, in Colorado and other states, would-be rescuers must take a number of other steps before they start breaking windows, including making “every reasonable effort” to locate the vehicle’s owner and call law enforcement. They must also be able to demonstrate the pet is clearly in danger of suffocation or extreme heat or cold. Many state laws specifically limit the term “animal” or “pet” to cats and dogs and specifically prohibit the law from referring to livestock.

Most state laws, according to a study earlier this year by Michigan State University, require that the rescuer be a first-responder (such as a police officer, EMT or firefighter), or a representative of a humane society. Ordinary citizens in most states are not offered any protection or immunity. Of course, many pet lovers will take action anyway, disregarding the potential risk of a nasty confrontation or being charged with destruction of property.

But until we have better laws protecting kids — and pets — left in vehicles, perhaps the best response is to leave your pets at home if possible. And if you see an animal in obvious distress in a vehicle, the Humane Society of the United States suggests you try to locate the owner, and if that fails, call the non-emergency number for the police to report the situation.

Drivers say automated car systems prevented crashes

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via Drivers say automated car systems prevented crashes, clarionledger.com

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A few months ago, I wrote in this column about how pedestrian deaths are becoming increasingly common on our roadways, with some of the alarming increases blamed on our being distracted by the ever-present devices we have with us constantly. While reading through on the findings of a study of the phenomenon, one statement, in particular, caught my eye: The number of pedestrian deaths might be higher still, if not for the installation of automated collision-avoidance systems now on many vehicles.

Our cars and trucks are steadily becoming self-thinking robots. Today’s cars can automatically apply the brakes if the vehicle in front of you suddenly slows or stops; sound an alarm if you’re nodding off at the wheel; alert you if you’re about to hit a vehicle in your blind spot; keep you from backing into an object, animal or person behind you; enable your vehicle to parallel-park itself and many others.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of the 35,092 people who died in vehicle crashes on American roads in 2015, the vast majority (94 percent) were at least partially caused by human error or poor decisions.

All these technologies are paving the way toward a future in which the vehicles will be doing much — if not all — of the driving. Depending on your point of view, that could be comforting or alarming. It’s an established fact that humans are just not very good at making decisions all the time, and we can suffer from fatigue, distraction, poor judgment and lack of impulse control. On the other hand, we know computerized systems are subject to security flaws, equipment failure, and poor programming.

But in labs and research facilities around the world, engineers are working towards a more automated future, and are watching as these features are tested on a massive scale on today’s roads. The results, Consumer Reports noted recently, can be found in saved lives and happier drivers. Consumer Reports asked its subscribers to report on their experiences with some of these technologies and found most of them reported they were not only satisfied with these systems but also, in some cases, credited those systems with avoiding crashes.

More than 57,000 vehicle owners responded to the magazine’s request to provide information, reporting that their vehicles included such features as automated emergency braking, forward-collision warning, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning and lane-departure warning. Consumer Reports noted that drivers were most appreciative of blind-spot warnings and rear cross-traffic warnings (although these systems have been panned in the past; the American Automobile Association in 2015 cited high error rates for RCTA systems).

In particular, for vehicle owners who said these features had saved them from accidents, blind-spot warnings were cited for preventing 35 percent of potential crashes. Even experienced drivers can fail to see a car that’s in their own vehicle’s blind spot and sideswipe neighboring vehicles when changing lanes. A blind-spot warning system sounds an alarm when it senses you’re about to change lanes into another vehicle.

While many of these features simply give you a visual, auditory or even tactile warning that a collision is imminent, others actually take control of the vehicle if the system senses a dangerous situation. For example, lane-keeping systems use cameras to detect lane markings and will steer your vehicle back to its lane if you’re drifting out of the lane. AEB will automatically apply the brakes if it senses you’re about to rear-end the vehicle in front of you.

Of course, with all of these technologies comes the potential for errors, which can annoy drivers and cause them to lose faith in the technology. For example, owners of vehicles equipped with forward-collision warning reported the highest number of false alerts. About 45 percent of these drivers reported getting at least one false alert.

Still, Consumer Reports (and many consumer advocates and regulatory bodies) think these technologies are a great idea (even with the occasional error) and recommend more of these technologies become standard equipment in the future. “Consumer Reports believes that FCW and AEB should be standard equipment, even with occasional false alerts,” noted the survey authors. “The latest study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety supports this: Rear-end crashes are cut by 27 percent when a vehicle has FCW and by 50 percent when it’s also equipped with AEB.”

To read Consumer Reports’ full article, which includes more results about each of the technologies covered, visit http://bit.ly/2twfCBc. For more on each type of feature and videos to explain them, visit the NHTSA’s site at http://bit.ly/2oCBSVM.

811 averts underground utility disasters

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Atmosenergy.com

via 811 averts underground utility disasters, clarionledger.com

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As I write this, I’ve been watching a crew working near my front yard, preparing for a fiber-optic cable being laid in our neighborhood. All around are colorful little flags, and the sidewalk, streets and even the grass are crisscrossed with spray-painted lines in various colors.

A large truck is parked in front of my house, and the crew has been using a high-pressure water stream to rapidly dig a hole near the street. As the workers blast the dirt and gravel, it’s all sucked into a large tank mounted on the truck and results in a deep hole with clean sides in just a few minutes. Soon, another crew will be pushing pipes through the ground to carry the new cables, and once the work is done, passersby won’t be able to tell all this activity has taken place.

It may seem tranquil on the surface, but below ground it’s a different story. Starting just inches below ground level is a maze of water and sewer lines, electrical lines, cable and fiber, telephone cables and other types of buried infrastructure used to provide services to our homes and businesses. Placing utilities underground has many advantages. Besides avoiding the eyesore of having pipes and wires running through the landscape, burying them can also keep them safe from damage, and keep us safe from them and their sometimes-dangerous cargo.

In most cases, this arrangement works pretty well. But occasionally, someone hits a buried pipe, wire or cable, with potentially deadly consequences. The Common Ground Alliance, an organization representing the underground-utility industry and which advocates for safe digging practices, reported in 2015 that 421 people had died and 1,906 people had been injured in the preceding two decades from striking underground utilities. The incidents had a financial cost as well, resulting in $1.7 billion in property damage.

The alliance produces an annual report called DIRT, short for Damage Information Reporting Tool. The report compiles data on damage to underground utilities throughout the U.S. and Canada. The most recent report (covering 2015) was released in October, and noted an encouraging trend: Requests to locate underground utilities were up significantly during 2015, while estimated damages from hitting them were down.

That good news is likely the result of increased public awareness. Here in Mississippi, a nonprofit organization called Mississippi 811 has the job of ensuring that damage doesn’t happen. They’re the folks you (hopefully) call before you put a shovel in the ground. 811 President Sam Johnson told me that, in the past year, 648 reports of underground utility damages have been reported in the state. That number is nearly 20 percent lower than the previous one-year period. In the same period, requests to locate buried utilities has increased significantly. “Hopefully, the increase in locate requests is an indicator that the public is paying attention,” Johnson said.

Johnson and his staff have been working hard to get the message out. 811 runs awareness ads on statewide radio and cable networks, as well as billboards, and sends out instructors to conduct awareness activities and train digging crews. Those efforts are augmented by utility companies that conduct their own efforts through ads, billboards and other awareness programs.

Many people wouldn’t think twice about digging a hole in their yard to plant a tree or put in a flower bed, but even digging a few inches with a shovel can sever a power line, cable or gas line. A free 811 call can not only keep you from getting yelled at by the neighbors when you cut their cable TV, it could keep you from being electrocuted by cutting into a power line or blowing up your neighborhood after rupturing a gas line. It can also save you money because you may have to pay for the damage, and you could be subject to fines under the new state law as well. (If you are a contractor and don’t make the call, your insurance company will probably not cover you for the damages.)

When you call, a crew will be dispatched to mark underground utilities running through your property. Crews will use paint and/or flags to mark where utilities are buried. Each type of utility has its own color: red for electrical lines, yellow for potentially dangerous or toxic materials such as natural gas, petroleum or steam; orange for telecommunications lines; blue for water lines; green for sewer lines; purple for slurry pipelines; pink for temporary survey markings; and white for areas with proposed excavations.

There is also a lot more at stake now if you don’t call. A new law signed last year by Gov. Phil Bryant will authorize legal penalties to people who violate the state’s digging laws and cause damage to buried utilities. The law authorizes a fine, ranging from $500 to $5,000 per incident.

“Anytime you hear a friend or neighbor say something about a project that will involve any excavation, be sure to remind them to call 811 at least two working days before they start their project,” he noted. “If you see someone that you care about, excavating but you don’t see any signs that the utilities have been marked (flags, paint, etc.), ask them if they have taken advantage of the free service to have the utilities marked. It’s the law, and it’s just the right and safe thing to do.”

Pool safety could stem child drownings

via Pool safety could stem child drownings, clarionledger.com

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For many, it’s a rite of summer. Having access to a swimming pool means the kids can have some way to spend the long, lazy summers. Here in the South, having a place to take a cool dip can be a blissful way to escape our notoriously hot weather.

But despite all the poolside fun, there is a dark side. Every year, hundreds of children drown in swimming pools across the country, and thousands more are injured in pool-related accidents. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 346 kids under the age of 15 died in 2014 (the latest year for which statistics are available).

The agency notes that accidental drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death among children aged 1-4, and the second-leading cause among kids 5-14. For the years 2014 through 2016, an average of 5,900 kids 15 or younger were treated for non-fatal drownings at hospital emergency rooms — most were under 5 years of age. More than two-thirds of drowning fatalities are boys, and the vast majority (86 percent) of fatal pool drownings occurred at backyard or apartment-complex pools.

Although grim, that report contains some good news: The number of drowning deaths among kids has actually decreased since 2010. “Despite the positive decline in numbers, there are still far too many children who drown each year in pools and spas across the country,” said Ann Marie Buerkle, acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Swimming should be fun and a great way for families to be active, so long as everyone knows how to pool safely.” (That’s not a misprint; the commission has been using the word “pool” as a verb for the purposes of its campaign.)

The Consumer Product Safety Commission and other agencies have stepped up their efforts to make people more aware of the dangers of pool drownings, and it appears to be having an effect. The commission’s “Pool Safely” campaign helps educate the public about pool safety and features an online “Pool Safely” pledge to identify your awareness level.

“Pool Safely” was started to help meet the requirements of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. Congress enacted the law after the 2002 drowning death of 7-year-old Graeme Baker (the granddaughter of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker), who died after being held underwater by a strong suction device at the bottom of a hot tub.

Kids can get into trouble in swimming pools in many ways. Even when there are lots of people around, a drowning can occur without notice in a noisy pool. Some drownings occur when kids accidently fall in after getting too close, and others happen when kids get into water that’s too deep, or get snagged by some obstruction. Tragically, some kids drown even when adults are nearby, or sneak into a pool unobserved. Swim lessons can help, but there is no replacement for constant (and undistracted) supervision by adults trained in lifesaving and CPR, as well as some common-sense safety features such as enclosing the pool area with a fence.

“As a mother, grandmother and registered nurse, I raised my kids, and now my grandkids, with a respect for water,” Buerkle noted. “Constant supervision, along with four-sided fencing, knowing how to perform CPR and teaching children how to swim are all important steps to continuing the decline in child drownings.”

Here are some other things to remember, from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other sources. Visit www.poolsafely.gov for more information:

  • Install a four-sided fence (at least 4 feet high) with a self-closing, self-latching gate around all pools and spas.
  • Install alarms around the pool area. A gate alarm and floating alarms can let you know if a person or pet falls in.
  • Don’t leave toys or flotation devices in the water. They can be an irresistible lure for children.
  • Designate a Water Watcher to supervise children at all times around the water. This person should not be reading, texting, drinking alcohol, using a smartphone or be otherwise distracted.
  • Learn how to swim and teach your child how to swim.
  • Learn how to perform CPR on children and adults.
  • Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments.
  • Ensure any pool and spa you use has drain covers that comply with federal safety standards and, if you do not know, ask your pool service provider about safe drain covers.

Watch where you’re going! Pedestrian deaths reach 20-year high

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Recently, as my son and I were walking across the grocery store parking lot to get some groceries, we were nearly hit by a car whose driver seemed oblivious to our presence as she turned the corner. Luckily, we were paying attention and had time to get out of the way. As we continued into the store, a store employee who was collecting shopping carts and saw the incident shook his head sympathetically and said, “it happens all the time.” It’s actually the second time in a year we’ve been nearly mowed down in the grocery store parking lot.

It’s a dangerous time to be a pedestrian in the United States. The Governors Highway Safety Administration just released its annual study of pedestrian deaths, which examines the problem of people getting killed after being struck by vehicles. The grim statistic: nearly 6,000 pedestrians died in 2016, the highest in 20 years.

That’s a 25 percent increase from 2010, making pedestrians the largest portion of all traffic deaths recorded in the past 25 years. And the 2016 spike marks an 11 percent increase from 2015 (the previous record-holder). The GHSA, a nonprofit made up of state highway safety offices, notes that the numbers could be higher, owing to the under-reporting of incidents. All told, 34 states had increases, and Mississippi ranked 20th in the nation for deaths as a percentage of total population for the first six months of 2016 (that’s actually an improvement from the previous year, but the second-half 2016 statistics haven’t come in yet.)

So, what’s causing all this mayhem? The authors of the study note the rapid increase in the use of smartphones could help explain at least part of the phenomenon because these devices present a “significant source of distraction for both pedestrians and motorists.”

We’ve all seen them, and maybe you’ve been one of them: people whose attention is focused on their smartphone while walking carelessly. Videos abound of people falling headlong into fountains, disappearing into open manholes or tripping on the curb while checking their email, posting to Facebook or looking for that elusive “Pokemon Go” character. Others fail to pay attention to oncoming traffic while crossing the street, leading to their being struck and often killed.

Drivers, too, are distracted. It’s been well-established that phone use while driving can present a serious attention deficit for drivers, becoming more serious the faster they drive. Unsurprisingly, alcohol also plays a role here, as it does in auto crashes in general. Thirty-four percent of pedestrians and 15 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes were intoxicated at the time of the crash, noted the study.

And although vehicles are getting better about avoiding crashing into things through collision-avoidance technologies, and local cities and states are taking measures to make things safer, the numbers continue to rise. It could be, the study’s authors note, more people are walking for fitness and economic reasons at the same time the numbers of vehicles on the road has risen because of the improving economy.

“This latest data shows that the U.S. isn’t meeting the mark on keeping pedestrians safe on our roadways,” Jonathan Adkins, GHSA executive director, told PBS Newshour. “Every one of these lives represents a loved one not coming home tonight, which is absolutely unacceptable.”

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (pedbikeinfo.org) has some helpful tips to make your walk or run safer. Here are a few:

  • Wear brightly colored clothing and reflective tape at night. These can help increase your visibility to motorists.
  • Always walk on the sidewalk if one is available; if not, walk facing traffic so you can see approaching vehicles.
  • Don’t assume drivers will stop. Try to make eye contact with the driver and be prepared to move if he or she doesn’t appear to notice you.
  • Cross streets only at crosswalks, if possible.
  • Don’t wear earbuds or use your phone while walking.

And finally, if you’re a driver in the grocery store parking lot, please … slow down, put down your phone and pay attention. You might save a life.

Sleep apnea’s consequences dangerous

 

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via Moak: Sleep apnea’s consequences dangerous

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Every night, millions of Americans deal with the effects of obstructive sleep apnea. Much to the frustration of their sleep partners, sufferers of this sleep disorder toss and turn, often snoring loudly and jolting themselves awake. The cycle is repeated often hundreds of times each night and leaves the sufferer exhausted and unrested in the morning.

According to the National Sleep Apnea Foundation, the disorder affects more than 18 million Americans (and possibly many more), and the vast majority of cases are undiagnosed. But sleep apnea is far from a minor annoyance; its effects can be potentially deadly. Left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression and other problems. And one particular effect can have far-reaching consequences — daytime drowsiness from the lack of restful sleep can lead to falling asleep while driving.

After a September train crash in Hoboken, New Jersey, in which one person was killed and at least 114 were injured, the Federal Railroad Administration announced it will issue a “strong recommendation” that train operators be tested regularly for sleep apnea. In the Hoboken crash, engineer Thomas Gallagher tested positive for sleep apnea after the crash, but he had passed a physical a couple of months before the crash. Gallagher reported feeling rested when he showed up for work that morning, but has no memory of the crash before waking up on the floor of the engineer’s cab.

Sleep apnea has also been blamed for a number of other train crashes, some fatal. According to the AP’s story, New York’s Metro-North service started testing its engineers for obstructive sleep apnea in 2013, after a deadly crash. Since then, 51 of 438 engineers tested positive for the disorder and treatment for them was ordered.

Sleep apnea, of course, isn’t a new problem; nor are the potential deadly effects. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that drowsy driving resulted in 72,000 crashes in 2013, resulting in 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths. However, the CDC report notes that those statistics may be very conservative. Studies have repeatedly shown that many of us are driving tired, and (particularly on longer trips) can fall asleep easily.

In March, the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board sought public input on the potential impacts of testing railroad workers and commercial motor vehicle drivers for obstructive sleep apnea. And the NTSB issued new guidance requiring that airlines test their pilots for the disorder on a regular basis and require treatment to be allowed back into the cockpit.

The actions came after at least 34 troubling incidents (and possibly many more), such as a 2008 Go! Airlines flight in which two pilots fell asleep on a short-hop flight between Honolulu and Hilo, Hawaii. The pilots flew their plane, 40 passengers and a flight attendant 26 miles past their island destination into open ocean and did not respond to air traffic controllers for more than 18 minutes. After their safe return, the captain was tested and found to have “undiagnosed severe OSA.”

FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg told the Associated Press  that the agency is considering that all railroad operators be screened for obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep and fatigue disorders. While the issue has been of concern for years, Feinberg told the AP it’s time to take action. “At this point it’s unacceptable to wait any longer,” she said. “This is one more thing railroads can do to keep their passengers safe and the communities they’re traveling through safe.”

For more about sleep apnea, its causes and treatments, visit http://www.sleepapnea.org/.

MDOT: Be careful around log trucks

 

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Mississippi Department of Transportation (GoMDOT.com)

 

via MDOT: Be careful around log trucks

If you live in Mississippi, you are familiar with log trucks. These rigs ply Mississippi roads, with their valuable cargo of newly harvested logs. Logging is a vital part of the state’s economy, with a growing impact. Most of those logs travel by truck to mills for processing. Last year, according to the MSU Extension Service, loggers harvested about $1.67 billion worth of trees.

But it can be a dangerous occupation. Those who drive log trucks may be combining two of the most dangerous occupations (as listed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics): Timber cutting and truck driving. While the vast majority of loads get to their destinations without incident, other drivers may not keep a proper distance from the truck, especially when approaching from the rear. The Mississippi Department of Transportation this week issued a reminder for drivers to keep a safe distance between their vehicles and log trucks.

The warning is especially timely, as many of us are still adjusting to the fallback for Daylight Saving Time, combined with the shorter daylight hours of late fall. “To help reduce potential crashes, we want to ensure the traveling public is aware of these log trucks and alert for them, especially during early evening and morning hours,” said Chief Willie Huff, director of the MDOT Office of Enforcement.

Most drivers learn to gauge distances pretty well, using the brain’s remarkable ability to learn and adapt. We use a combination of experience, visual cues and depth perception to figure out just how far away an object is so we can adjust our speed and distance accordingly. Most of the time, it serves us well. But when a vehicle is traveling at highway speed, complicated by low visibility, the task becomes much harder.

To help avoid crashes, state law requires log trucks to follow certain regulations. For example, log truck drivers must have a permit to be on the road two hours before sunrise and two hours after sunset. Log trucks may let their cargo “overhang” 12 feet from the back of the truck, and the longest log must be marked with a red flag during the day and an amber or red flashing light at night. This is so drivers behind the truck can have a fixed point by which to gauge distance.

To help illustrate, MDOT has produced a video to demonstrate the visibility of a log truck at 90 feet, 20 feet and at 10 feet. It would be a good idea to review it, and (especially for less-experienced drivers) to understand that you need to give log trucks (or any truck) a wide berth.

To report safety concerns on Mississippi highways, visit GoMDOT.com. For current travel information, visit MDOTtraffic.com, dial 511 or download the free MS Traffic app from the App Store or Google Play.