Severe winter weather can bring serious health risks and weather associated injuries with it. It’s very important to be aware of these risks, make provisions and take preventive action ahead of time.
We posted up two articles yesterday, one about driving safely in the winter and the other one about walking safely in the winter, so a bit of this article is covered in them, although they’re more specific and this is more of a general Winter safety article, it’s well worth reading these two as well.
So, instead of spending the winter from a hospital bed, hopefully you’ll be out enjoying the outdoors to its fullest.
Icy conditions are the main cause of slip-and-fall incidents and are frequently seen in hospital ERs after winter storms. During treacherous snow and ice storms, wrist fractures, as well as more severe hip fractures and head injuries from falls top the list of injuries.
The best idea is to stay inside until the ice has been removed from the roads and sidewalks. However, if you do have to hazard the outdoors and walk on the snow and ice, follow these safety tips:
- Allow yourself plenty of time and take slower and shorter steps.
- Ensure you have warm insulated footwear with a decent rubber tread for traction.
- During a storm, and even after one, be especially careful walking on the side of the road. The combination of snow covered sidewalks and poor visibility make you particularly vulnerable to being hit by a vehicle.
Another serious risk during the winter is shoveling snow. Ligaments and muscles – common soft tissue injuries, especially in the lower back – are common from the bending, twisting, and heavy lifting of shoveling.
Broken bones, most commonly in hands and arms, are also seen, although rarely. Oftentimes, a child can get hurt by a hit to the head or by horseplay in the area while adults are shoveling. If you have a heart condition, just walking in heavy snow or slush can put a significant burden on your heart, not to mention shoveling it.
People over 55 years old are four times more likely to have heart problems when shoveling snow. Studies showed that only 7% of the injuries from shoveling were heart-related, but for those with a heart condition, all deaths associated with shoveling were because of a heart attack.
These tips will lessen your chances of getting hurt while shoveling snow:
- Allow yourself sufficient time and take frequent breaks.
- Wear slip-resistant boots and dress properly for the conditions.
- Rather than lifting the snow or twisting and throwing it over your shoulders, try pushing the snow.
- It’s important to listen to your body. If you become short of breath, start sweating profusely, or have chest pain: stop immediately!
Using a snow blower also poses significant risk; severe hand injuries and finger amputations are seen in the hospital ERs every winter.
- Never put your hand into the chute to unclog the snow!
- Remember, even after you turn the snow blower off, there is a period where the blades are still turning. The sharp blades are hazardous even when the machine is not running.
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean we don’t have to drive, but it is another dangerous activity most of us have to do. According to some reports, auto accident claims go up by twelve percent during January and February. It is common sense to mention that, if you don’t have to go out in a storm or before the roads are satisfactorily cleared, do your best to remain at home.
The primary contributing factors to the many motor vehicle accidents are reduced traction with slippery conditions, reduced visibility from snow and partial white-out conditions. Another large contributor is driving too fast for the weather conditions, as well as not allowing sufficient braking distance between you and the car in front. In icy conditions, even four-wheel drive vehicles can’t stop on a dime.
- Drive slowly and carefully and allow sufficient time to get to your destination when driving in hazardous weather conditions.
- Avoid quick lane changes and cutting people off. They too need additional time and distance to effectively brake and stop.
- Ensure your car is serviced for the winter with properly functioning brakes, battery, and adequate fluid levels.
- Always try to keep your gas tank as full as possible, in the event of a long, slow commute during stormy weather or if you get stuck and need to keep the car warm.
- If you do get stranded and are running your engine, make sure the tailpipe is not blocked with snow – you don’t want carbon monoxide leaking into the car.
- It is important to have an emergency kit in your car in the event you are stranded. The kit should include a shovel, windshield scraper, warm blankets with an extra set of dry gloves, a hat, and outerwear, booster cables, a tow rope and flashlight, a battery-powered radio, sand or kitty litter, some high-protein food, water, and a basic first aid kit.
Hypothermia is another potentially severe risk from being outdoors too long or stuck in your car on the side of the road for a long period of time. This is why an emergency kit is so important. If possible, it’s recommended not to leave your vehicle to search for help, especially in isolated areas and during a storm.
The car provides some shelter from the elements, even without the engine running. You can tie a colored scarf or some other article of clothing to the car to signal you need help.
Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature is less than 95°F. Those at a great risk for developing hypothermia are the elderly who have difficulty regulating their core temperatures, infants, very young kids who lose body heat faster than adults and are unable to tell you that they are cold, anyone that drinks too much alcohol, and anyone on medications; such as beta-blockers, sedatives, and antipsychotic drugs.
People with medical disorders that also weaken the body’s ability to regulate heat, such as Parkinson’s, diabetes, stroke, and hypothyroidism are also at risk. Another occurrence is getting wet, which causes your body to lose heat faster through evaporation and conduction.
The symptoms of hypothermia are sometimes referred to as the ‘umbles’ – mumbles, stumbles, grumbles, and fumbles – which correspond to slurred speech, the loss of coordination, and eventual loss of consciousness with cardiac arrest.
First aid tips for hypothermia:
- Move the sufferer to a warm area and remove any wet clothing.
- If they are conscious and awake, give them warm non-alcoholic beverages.
- Start CPR if they are not breathing.
- Do not apply direct heat to the extremities; this will cause a further drop in body temperature.
The acronym COLD will help you remember ways to avoid hypothermia:
- Cover – yourself and all exposed areas, including hands, face, and neck.
- Overexertion – avoid activities that make you sweat, which will make you damp and cause you to lose more heat.
- Layers – wear loose layers of clothing that trap air and insulate. Your outer layer should be tightly woven and water resistant.
- Dry – stay as dry as possible. Make sure that no snow can get into your clothing and get you damp or wet.
When the temperature is between 0° and -19° Fahrenheit, frostbite can occur in an exposed area of your body within 5 minutes. It occurs when your skin tissue literally freezes with ice crystals forming within the tissue around the cells. At the outset, the top layer freezes and the skin becomes a whitish-gray color. If treated early, full recovery is probable.
However, if exposure to the elements continues and the tissue freezes completely through, it will cause permanent damage to muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. This is called third-degree or deep frostbite. It behaves like and is treated similarly to a full thickness, third-degree burn. You really don’t want me describing how Gangrene affects the body and what’s needed to get rid of it, hopefully, it will suffice to say it’s to be avoided.
First aid treatment for frostbite:
- Get the victim out of the cold.
- Remove any constricting wet clothing, especially around any affected frostbitten area.
- Elevate that affected area to reduce swelling.
- Never rub or massage the area; it damages the tissue further and never rub with ice or snow.
- Never re-warm an affected frostbitten area, if there is a chance of re-freezing. It is better to leave the part frozen since more damage will occur to the tissue if it thaws and then freezes again.
Burns and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
During severe storms, we also see burn injuries and carbon monoxide poisonings. Overturned space heaters or lit candles that fall over at night are common causes of house fires. A gasoline generator being used during a power outage that is placed too close to the vents of your house can allow carbon monoxide to seep into the house.
Leaving your car running for any length of time while you are stuck or waiting for help is another carbon monoxide hazard. Carbon monoxide can also seep into the car if your tailpipe is obstructed or plugged.
Initially, the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are non-explicit, almost flu-like with a bad headache, dizziness, and confusion, also shortness of breath is symptomatic. If these signs are not recognized, higher levels of carbon monoxide result in unconsciousness and eventually death. Pregnant women, infants, small children, the elderly, and those with chronic medical conditions are at high risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.
Protect yourself and family members with these tips:
- Do not use fuel-burning devices in unvented enclosed spaces.
- Make sure your home has proper functioning carbon monoxide alarms with fresh batteries.
- If an alarm goes off, do not consider it a false alarm. Open all windows to ventilate and call a technician to check the heating system and ensure it is working properly.
- Do not ignore anyone with symptoms; seek medical help in a hospital ER immediately.
- First aid for victims: remove them from the contaminated area to fresh air or provide oxygen if available.
- Start CPR if necessary and call 911.
If you have any comments then please drop us a message on our Outdoor Revival facebook page
If you have a good story to tell or blog let us know about it on our FB page, we’re also happy for article or review submissions, we’d love to hear from you.
We live in a beautiful world, get out there and enjoy it.
Outdoor Revival – Reconnecting us all with the Outdoor