Back To School: New year brings safety focus

Guest Column

Kirk M. Fetcher, Director, Installation Safety Office

Autumn sneaks up on you, but suddenly the kids are back in school.

Since the beginning of summer, the days are shorter by three minutes each day. This slow, subtle process is noted on Sept. 22, when daylight hours equal nighttime hours.

Then one day we notice that we need our lights on while driving to work.

With the start of school, the safety environment is different.

One-day beach vacations suddenly end. We again see school buses stopping to pick up children.

Awareness is the key.

Change your mindset and your planning. Maybe you leave for work 10 minutes early so you can exercise more caution, especially in the neighborhoods where children walk to school or wait near bus stops.

Plan early how your children are affected by the change. If your children have a key to get into the house after school, make alternate arrangements if they lose their key.

A real safety concern as we revise our travel planning is distracted driving. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, at any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 people are using cellphones or manipulating electronic devices while driving.

In 2014, 3,179 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver.

When you drive a car or ride a motorcycle, you are multitasking. Your brain, hands and eyes are all working together to keep you on the road, in your lane and safe from other drivers.

Performing another activity that distracts you from the primary task of controlling the vehicle can leave you vulnerable to a mishap.

Staying focused while driving is a necessity. Distracted driving activities include:

  • Texting or talking on a cellphone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Using a navigation system or reading, including maps
  • Watching a video or adjusting an audio system

These activities can increase the chance of a motor vehicle crash, especially as we adjust to a new school year.

Also, be ready for lower temperatures. As autumn comes into full swing, the temperatures may lower in your area, which can lead to several safety issues.

Vehicle tire pressure can be affected by the cool nights and warm days of autumn. Make sure to check tire pressure throughout the season. Tires deflate up to 2 PSI for every drop of 10 degrees

Other safety concerns as our seasons change:

  • Ventilation: Keep homes ventilated, even if the temperatures drop, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Use carbon monoxide detectors and have your home heating systems inspected before the temperature drops.
  • Home safety: Gutter-cleaning and other outdoor home maintenance projects present the risk of falls.

Secure ladders before removing debris from gutters or handling other repairs on or near roofs.

Tools should be in proper working order and put away as soon as you are finished to prevent injuries.

  • Sunscreen: Summer often comes to mind when thinking of sunscreen, but you should also apply it during fall to protect your skin from the sun.
  • Changing weather conditions: When hiking or camping, be aware of quickly changing weather conditions, especially during late fall.

Mountain hiking can be particularly dangerous because of the potential for colder temperatures, ice and snow as you reach higher elevation.

Bring along plenty of warm clothing and blankets on a camping trip.

  • Space heaters: When using portable space heaters to warm the house or workplace, keep them away from water, curtains and flammable items.

Do not leave a space heater unattended, and buy one that shuts off automatically if it falls over.

Always practice safety first. Our safety record at Fort Meade is commendable, but we can always improve.

Visit our website for other information regarding our safety program at

Team Meade!

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