More Scrutiny Sought On Beach Umbrella Safety

OCEAN CITY — With a spike in beach umbrella-related injuries in recent years, including an incident in Ocean City last summer, a group of U.S. Senators from mid-Atlantic states last week called for more scrutiny by a leading product safety authority.

With the summer season rapidly approaching and the weather taking a decidedly better turn, beachgoers are starting to return to their favorite seashores and taking their beach umbrellas with them. Millions of beachgoers will employ thousands of umbrellas throughout the summer often with no safety concerns.

However, a spike in often serious injuries caused by flying beach umbrellas in an around the mid-Atlantic area has led to a coalition of U.S. senators from Virginia and New Jersey to question the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on steps being taken to ensure they are safe. The senators fired off a letter to CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye last week.

“We write regarding concerns about the safety of beach umbrellas,” the letter reads. “Recently, we heard from constituents impacted by flying beach umbrellas, which have caused injury and, in at least one recent case, death. As you know, beach umbrellas provide beachgoers the benefits of shade on hot and sunny days at the shore, yet a burst of wind can make these summer accessories harmful to those around them.”

The letter enumerates several incidents in recent years in the mid-Atlantic region including an incident in Ocean City last summer. Last July, a gust of wind dislodged an umbrella on the beach at 54th Street and it impaled a 46-year-old Pennsylvania woman sitting in a beach chair in the upper chest just below her collarbone. Ocean City Fire Department personnel had to actually saw off the wooden shaft of the umbrella before the victim could be taken to the hospital. She eventually made a full recovery, but the incident served as a reminder to all of the potential dangers of flying umbrellas and helped serve as the catalyst for the letter penned to the CPSC last week.

“Over the last several years, reports of horrific injuries resulting from beach umbrellas have splashed across the media,” the letter reads. “In 2015, a Virginia man lost the use of his eye after a seven-foot long beach umbrellas struck him in Bethany Beach, Del. Last year, a beach umbrella came loose from the sand in Seaside Heights, N.J., impaling a British tourist through the ankle. That same summer, a woman sitting on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland was pierced below the collarbone by a beach umbrella.”

The senators’ letter calls on the CPSC to answer a series of questions specific to beach umbrella safety and requests the federal agency to answer those questions by June 3. One of the questions asks what, if any, safety standards the CPSC have in place to adequately prevent beach umbrella injuries. Another asks what the CPSC is doing to educate the public regarding the dangers of beach umbrellas. The letter also askes the CPSC to provide a detailed breakdown of beach umbrella-related injuries among others.

Of course, it goes without saying the incident in Ocean City last July was somewhat rare and isolated considering the beach in the height of summer is covered with umbrellas from one end of the resort to the other on most days, but it does serve as a reminder to take certain precautions when setting umbrellas and to adjust them as conditions change throughout the day.

Accidents can often be prevented and are typically caused by an umbrella that was not properly set in the sand to begin with. There are some common-sense beach umbrella installation techniques that will make a day at the beach safer for everybody.

When setting the umbrella, simply jabbing it into the sand is not enough. Instead, jab the sharpened end of the pole into the sand and rock the entire umbrella back and forth until 18 to 24 inches of the pole are firmly into the beach. Another flawed technique is attempting to screw the umbrella pole into the sand.

Another tip is to make sure the umbrella is tilted into the wind. That will prevent a gust from getting under the umbrella and lifting it suddenly. Again, common sense should prevail in most cases. If it is an unusually windy day, take the umbrella down and don’t leave it unattended. If one goes in for lunch, or into the ocean for a swim or down the beach for a walk, take the umbrella down and put it back up upon returning.

The beach patrol will often warn beachgoers of high wind conditions, just as they issue warning about rip currents or other potential hazards. It is also important to remember to set umbrellas behind the lifeguard stands. Umbrellas set east of the imaginary line between lifeguard stands can impede the sight lines for the beach patrol and its ability to survey the water. If setting an umbrella before the lifeguards come on duty, always remember to set them a few yards behind the high tide line.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.