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Living Well

Winter Safety Tips

Last updated: Jan 22, 2016


Winter is beautiful.  Winter is fun.  Winter is dangerous   A winter snowfall or cold weather blast brings special hazards, especially for children and the elderly.  You can stay healthy this winter by getting up to speed on cold weather safety.  

HYPOTHERMIA

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the internal temperature of is 98.6, but just a few degrees lower than that is dangerous because body functions slow down—and even stop.  (1)

When the body temperature drops too low, it leads to a deadly condition called “hypothermia.” The elderly and young children are most susceptible to the effects of changes in outside temperature.  Left untreated, hypothermia can quickly turn dangerous. Several hundred people in the U.S.—half of them age 65 or older—die from hypothermia each year. (2) To prevent hypothermia, the NIH recommends:

  • Dress in layers and wear a jacket with a waterproof and windproof outer shell.
  • To keep warm at home, wear socks, slippers, and even a cap or hat. Set your heat at 68° or higher when it’s cold outside. To save on heating bills, close off rooms you’re not using.

CARBON MONOXIDE

Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning can happen at any time of the year, but the danger is greater during the winter when doors and windows stay closed and fireplaces, gas heaters, or other fuel burning appliances are in use. In addition, people can also be exposed to deadly CO levels when “warming up” their cars in garages or keeping them running when stuck in snow.  The Minnesota Department of Public Safety has these tips on winter CO safety.

  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm in your home. All homes should have BOTH a CO alarm and a smoke detector.
  • Have a qualified technician inspect your furnace and check fuel-burning appliances in the fall. Make sure your furnace has an adequate air supply.
  • When using a fireplace, wood stove or space heater, provide adequate ventilation.
  • Portable propane camping equipment and gas barbecues are approved for outdoor use only.
  •  If your car is stuck in the snow, make sure that the exhaust (tail pipe) is cleared before starting the car engine. Be sure the exhaust is free of snow and check it periodically if you use the engine for heat.
  •  During power outages, do not use gasoline engines or burn charcoal in enclosed spaces, including a garage, even if the door is open. Do not use gas stoves or ovens to heat living areas.

SNOW REMOVAL

Snow removal can be a pain—and it can literally cause pain because it is strenuous and your body is cold.   Before you shovel or turn on a snow blower, be informed.

Shoveling

Shoveling snow is a serious aerobic workout.  The popular app MyFitnessPal calculates that an hour of shoveling snow burns 422 calories for someone who weighs 150 pounds.  Because it is strenuous, snow taxes the body and can cause dehydration, exhaustion, back injuries, and even heart attacks.  The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) recommends the following tips for avoiding shoveling and snow-blowing-related injuries (3):

  • Warm up before you shovel.  As with any vigorous exercise, your muscles need to warm up first.  Summit Medical Group’s Sports Medicine program recommends stretching before exerting your body. 
  • Scoop small amounts of snow at a time.
  • Lift property to avoid back injuries.  Keep your back straight, let your legs bear the weight, and avoid twists and turns.
  • Where possible, push the snow instead of lifting it.
  • Take frequent breaks in warm areas.
  • Do not shovel if you have a chronic heart condition.  According to the American Heart Association, this activity exerts the heart and raises the pulse rate quickly.  

Snow blowing

Snow blowers bring together two elements that are a dangerous mix: electricity and water.  Take these precautions before and during snow removal.

  • Before you turn on your snow blower, make sure that it is unplugged from power sources.  
  • Make sure your snow blower is property grounded so you don’t get an electric shock. 
  • Turn it off before you check out a mechanical problem or do maintenance—and use a stick—not your hands—to remove any jams.
  • Keep your body away from moving parts, especially your hands and feet.
  • Never add fuel when the engine is hot and running.  Refuel before you turn it on.
  • Wear protective eyewear.

SLIPS AND FALLS

  • Preventing slips and falls starts clearing streets, stairs and sidewalks of snow and ice, and using salt or another deicing substance to melt residue ice. (Warning: keep children and pets away from deicing chemicals!)
  •  Wear the right footwear. According to a study in the academic journal Ergonomics, shoes and boots should have soles made of natural or synthetic rubber and have good treads.  It’s also important to remember that shoes made to prevent slipping in sports, such as cleats and flat-soled basketball shoes, can be extremely slippery on ice. 
  • If you are on an icy or snowy walkway, take short steps and walk slowly.  Make sure that your weight has completely transferred to one foot before lifting the other.

If you think you have a strain, sprain or bone fracture from a slip or fall, get inside and seek medical treatment immediately.  Summit Medical Group’s four conveniently located urgent care centers treat orthopedic and other conditions without the hours-long wait of emergency rooms.

Footnotes:

  1. National Institutes of Health. "NIH News in Health." NIH News in Health RSS. Nih.gov, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.
  2. Ibid
  3. Labor, United States Department of. "Winter Weather | Hazards/Precautions." Winter Weather | Hazards/Precautions. OSHA, 07 Nov. 2014. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.

 

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