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Are you gearing up to have some fun? It’s the stick-in-the-mud who dulls the sense of adventure, suggesting you think twice. But the dullard may be the wise one as the summer closes out with the traditional long weekend.

Labor Day Weekend originated in North America in the early 1880s to recognize workers. The holiday marked the establishment of the 40-hour work week, or 8 hours of work daily for 5 days and then two days of rest.

Labor unions of the day had it right. They advocated each day should have a balance of 8 hours of work, 8 hours of recreation, and 8 hours of rest – and the 2-day weekend offered a healthy break to refresh. But the extra day of celebration marking the 3-day weekend at the end of summer is a mixed story. For all the fun and games of the last summer hurrah, there is a higher-than-average rate of injury and death.

Water is a common theme to many of the saddest tragedies. Drownings occur from boating accidents, misfortune at beaches, and the heart-crushing incidents of negligence involving the family swimming pool. It is an awful statistic that 350 children under the age of 5 drown in pools every year in the U.S. In Canada, with a population only a tenth of the size, a similar number of people drown in the country’s beautiful natural bodies of water each year. Inevitably, in both countries, news following Labor Day Weekend laments these kinds of tragedies.

But the greatest risk comes from traffic accidents. From the Friday evening start of the long Labor Day weekend, through the end of the day on Monday, we can expect about 500 people to die on North American roads. More than 54,000 people injured in traffic accidents will require medical assistance.

We know why. The trendline in holiday-period, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities has been gradually moving down from 60% in 1983 to 38% in 2019. But still, too many people are drinking and driving, especially on Labor Day weekend.

The advice is clear. Don’t let loved ones drink and drive. Take action if you see anyone who has been drinking or using drugs get behind the wheel.

Distracted driving increases the risk of accident by 500%, so leave the phone alone. Put it in the trunk if you struggle to comply. Don’t let inexperienced young drivers transport their friends, who unwittingly can be the most dangerous of all distractions.

If driving is a necessity, then slow down. It’s a long weekend; there’s lots of time. High speed is the direct cause of 27% of traffic fatalities in Canada. Above all, wear the seatbelt. The evidence is overwhelming that seatbelts save lives.

There are other sources of tragedy when the focus should be on good times with friends and family. Motorcycles, ATVs, jet skis, and even the common bicycle are all associated with fun. But just as the last run down the ski mountain at the end of a winter day claims a higher rate of falls, these activities yield more accidents during the last weekend of the summer.

The holiday weekend sees more dog bites than usual too.

Fires are yet another major concern, whether from grills, campfires, or fireworks. When cautions are abandoned, people will be harmed and property damaged. Absent, broken or poorly maintained smoke alarms will mean the difference between preventable deaths and disaster.

So take it easy this weekend ahead, and look out for the ones you love.

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is a graduate of the University of Toronto and the Harvard Medical School. For more than 40 years, he specialized in gynecology, devoting his practice to the formative issues of women’s health.

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