Freezing temperatures, slippery sidewalks, and snow-filled driveways—every year these winter woes send nearly 200,000 Americans to the emergency room and are responsible for as many as 100 deaths. Here is how to keep you—and your family—safe from the most common cold weather hazards.
PRACTICE SNOW SHOVEL SAFETY
People tend to overestimate how much snow they can shovel. If you do not exercise regularly you are probably not prepared for such a strenuous activity.
Bending and lifting heavy snow—that can weigh up to 20 lbs. per shovel—can cause serious overuse injuries, such as back strain and pulled muscles.
Anyone with a history of heart problems, diabetes, or high blood pressure should let a family member or neighbor tackle the driveway. Cold temperatures decrease the blood supply to the heart and other organs. This added stress combined with the extra workload of shoveling could trigger a heart attack or stroke.
If you are fit to shovel remember these tips to avoid injury:
- Warm up — stretch your muscles and jog in place before heading outside
- Get the right gear — Use a light shovel with an S-curve and a contoured handle. Bundle up with hats, gloves, boots, and waterproof clothing. Use a snow blower, when possible, and enlist extra hands to help out.
- Set a pace— take breaks every 15 minutes and stop if you begin to feel any pain. Remember to stay hydrated.
- Keep it light – move a few inches at a time in deep or compact snow. Do not attempt to lift the shovel if it feels too heavy.
- Lift properly – Place feet shoulder width apart and keep the back straight. Do not twist or bend forward. Push snow out of the way when possible. If you have to lift, bend at the hips and knees and walk to the area or throw the snow straight in front of you. Never toss snow over your shoulder or head.
PREVENT SLIPS AND FALLS
Accidental falls are the leading cause of emergency room visits, according to the National Floor Safety Institute. Tripping on a patch of ice or snow can cause concussions, back injuries, or broken bones. These injuries can trigger serious health problems particularly in the elderly.
To avoid slipping outside:
- Clear any snow and ice on your sidewalk and driveway.
- Make sure there is plenty of light along your path to the car, mailbox, and garbage cans.
- Wear footwear with traction, such as snow or hiking boots. Wipe your shoes thoroughly on a doormat before stepping onto tile floors.
- Walk slowly and carefully. Keep your hands out of your pockets to help you balance. Do not look at your cell phone or fumble through your pockets or purse for keys on the way to the car.
- Use handrails and other stable objects for support.
- Watch out for falling icicles.
Slick roads and impaired vision creates hazardous road conditions. To stay safe behind the wheel this winter:
- Avoid driving whenever possible in snow and icy rain
- Service your car before the cold weather hits — check the tire pressure, inspect the battery, and change the oil. Depending on where you live, you may want to install snow tires.
- Pack an emergency kit for the trunk in case you become stranded —include a flashlight, first aid kit, battery-powered radio, water and snacks, emergency flares, blankets, matches, and cell phone.
In freezing temperatures, the body loses heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can lead to a life-threatening condition called hypothermia that causes the body’s temperature to fall below 95 degrees.
The elderly and young children lose heat more rapidly than young adults and are particularly vulnerable to develop hypothermia if they do not have access to proper heat. Hikers, hunters, or construction workers, who spend a lot of time outdoors, are also at an increased risk. To avoid becoming too cold:
- Keep the house at a comfortable temperature
- Limit outdoor time in freezing weather
- Wear loose-fitting layered clothes. Make sure to protect exposed skin with gloves, scarfs, and long socks. Hats are essential — the body loses 30 percent of its heat through the head.
- Stay dry. Take off wet clothing immediately.
- Don’t drink. Alcohol may make your body feel warm, but it causes the body to lose heat fast. Shivering—the first sign of hypothermia—is also reduced by the effects of alcohol.
- OrthoInfo. “Prevent Snow Shoveling and Snowblowing Injuries.” American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 17 January 2017. Web. November 2016.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Avoid-Spot-Treat: Frostbite & Hypothermia.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 17 January 2017. Web. 25 October 2016.
- National Safety Council. “Why do People Die Shoveling Snow?” National Safety Council. 17 January 2017. Web. October 2017.
- National Floor Safety Institute. “Quick Facts.” National Floor Safety Institute. 17 January 2017. Web.