It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but winter is also the season for extra caution and heightened safety awareness.
There’s risk on many fronts during snowy, cold and icy weather. Research shows that approximately 25,000 deaths related to hypothermia happen each year in the United States in addition to 8,000 that happen Canada. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), winter weather kills more than twice as many Americans as summer heat.
Flu rates peak from December to March, primarily because people spend more time indoors and potentially breathe the air of those who may be infected. And flu transmission favors cold, dry climates. Likewise outdoor risks are great. Driving can be treacherous, with more than 70 percent of roads in the United States and pretty much all of Canada located in snowy regions. U.S. statistics from Carsurance show that each year:
- More than 1,300 people are killed in car crashes on snowy or icy roads
- Approximately 116,800 people are injured in car accidents on snowy or icy roads
- About 76,000 people are injured in traffic accidents during snowfall
- 70 percent of accidental fatalities that occur during winter happen in cars
The National Safety Council (NSC) says that, across the United States, winter snow shoveling results in thousands of injuries each year. According to the American Heart Association, it can be dangerous and fatal for some as the risk of heart attack while shoveling snow increases the workload on a heart, due to colder temperatures and physical exertion.
Each year more than 1 million Americans are injured and approximately 17,000 are killed as the result of falling on ice or snow. Seniors are at greatest injury risk from slips and falls and it is their most common cause of traumatic brain injury.
Winter sports and activities can be anything but fun and games if you’re not exercising caution. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) reports that the most common winter sports injuries include sprains, strains, dislocations and fractures, which typically happen at the end of the day when people often overexert themselves. To play it safe, they recommend staying in good physical condition, being alert and stopping activity if you are tired or in pain.
With all of these winter hazards in mind, we present to you the holiday gift of these safety tips to make this winter safer and more enjoyable.
From Transport Canada comes the advice of driving appropriately for road and weather conditions. That means slowing down in bad weather and allowing extra travel time. Be careful when you brake, change lanes, make turns and take curves. Put more distance between you and the vehicle in front of you in bad weather. The three second driving rule is a good tip, meaning you should be able to count to three before getting to the same point in the road that the vehicle in front of you was at when you started counting.
Skidding is often a result of panic braking when trying to avoid an obstacle on the road, so try to stay calm and alert. In extreme weather, don’t use driver assistance technologies such as adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assistance, as they may not work well in winter weather.
The NSC offers these tips below for winterizing your car:
- Test your battery since battery power drops as the temperature drops
- Make sure the car cooling system is in good working order
- Use winter tires with a deeper, more flexible tread
- If using all-season tires, check the tread and replace them if there’s less than 2/32 of an inch
- Check the tire pressure and be aware that, as the temperature drops, so does tire pressure
- Check your wiper blades and replace them if necessary
- Use wiper fluid rated for -30° F
- Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freezing
And, before starting out on your winter journey:
- Clean your car’s external camera lenses and side view mirrors so you can see what’s around you
- Remove dirt, ice and snow from sensors to ensure the function of your assistive-driving features
- In frigid weather, you may want to warm up the car before driving it
- Never leave a vehicle running in your garage, even with the garage door up
If the forecast looks iffy, wait out storms if possible, but if you must travel, share your travel plans and route with someone before you leave
Don’t pick up that shovel without a doctor’s permission if you have a history of heart disease. Clearing snow places a great deal of stress on the heart. Perhaps consider hiring someone to remove it, rather than doing it yourself. But if your heart’s set on tackling the job, then heed the following NSC advice:
- Don’t shovel first thing in the morning as most heart attacks occur first thing in the morning, when your blood is most likely to clot
- Do not shovel after eating or while smoking
- Take it slow and stretch out before you begin
- Shovel only fresh, powdery snow; it’s lighter
- Push the snow rather than lifting it
- If you do lift it, use a small shovel or only partially fill the shovel
- Lift with your legs, not your back
- Don’t work to the point of exhaustion – take a break every 15 minutes
- Know the signs of a heart attack, and stop immediately and call 911 you experience any of them – every minute counts
Here are tips for snow blowing:
- Never stick your hands in a snowblower. If snow jams it, stop the engine and wait at least five seconds then clear the snow or debris blockage from the chute using a solid object. Also be aware of the recoil of the motor and blades after the machine is turned off.
- Never leave a running snow blower unattended. Shut off the engine if you must walk away from the machine.
- Add fuel before starting the snowblower and never when the engine is running or hot. Add fuel outside rather than in a garage, shed, or enclosed area to avoid being overwhelmed by engine fumes. And never operate the machine in an enclosed area.
- Stay away from the engine. It can become extremely hot.
- To start a machine with a pull-cord, hold it firmly and stand in a broad stance with feet wide apart. If the cord doesn’t move freely, don’t force it. Sharply pulling a nonmoving pull-cord may cause injury to your upper body or back.
- Watch the snowblower cord when using an electric snow blower and always be aware of where the power cord is.
- Don’t remove safety devices, shields or guards on switches.
- Keep children away and never let them operate snowblowers.
- Understand your machine by reading the instruction manual prior to using it. Be familiar with the specific safety hazards and unfamiliar features.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported in 2018 that approximately 200,000 people were treated at hospitals, doctors’ offices and emergency rooms for injuries related to winter sports. For winter skiers, the most common and frequent incidents are caused by excess speed, loss of control and collisions with stationary objects, like a tree or lift tower. The NSC advises that skiers and snowboarders should never ski alone, no matter how experienced they are, nor should they move off designated trails.
While safety helmets reduce head injuries, risk-taking behaviors can result in traumatic brain injuries despite wearing a helmet. Improperly fitting or misadjusted gear can cause injury, so seek expert advice when purchasing and fitting boots, bindings and skis. Wear bright colors, dress in layers and make sure outerwear is made of fabric that is both water repellent and slide resistant. It’s also important to know your skill level when choosing slopes and maneuvers. Other NSC advice for skiers includes:
- Getting in shape for the season; a regular exercise routine helps reduce fatigue and injury
- Beginners should invest in proper instruction, including learning how to fall and get back up; experienced skiers should take a refresher course
- Always knowing weather conditions before heading to the slopes; time of day can also affect visibility and make obstacles difficult to see
- Giving skiers in front of you the right of way; they most likely can’t see you
- If you must stop, do it on the side rather than in the middle of a run
- Looking both ways and uphill before crossing a trail, merging or starting down a hill
- Using skis with brakes or a snowboard with a leash to prevent runaway equipment
- Never skiing on closed runs or out of boundaries – these areas are not monitored and snow conditions could be unknown; a rogue skier might even cause an avalanche
And Finally…The New Normal
COVID-19 precautions must continue this winter season, according to the CDC. If you enter a public building or warming shelter wear a mask, bring hand sanitizer and stay at least six feet from others. Scarves, ski masks, and balaclavas don’t offer the protection of masks, but can be worn over them. If it is too cold to safely open doors or windows, consider using air filtration and/or bathroom and stove exhaust fans to reduce virus particles in the air.
Check out these other winter safety resources:
- Safety tips from the American Red Cross if a winter storm hits your community
- Winter outdoor safety advice from Parachute Canada
- Safety tips for exercising outdoors this winter from the Mayo Clinic
- Winter driving tips from the American Automobile Association (AAA)
- Cold weather safety for older adults from the National Institute on Aging
- 10 winter safety tips for children from Save the Children
- Here’s a great all-in-one extreme cold personal health and safety guide from the CDC