Winter Health and Safety Tips

Winter can be dangerous. Things like a heart attack while shoveling snow, or slow and stealthily carbon monoxide poisoning are just a few of those things that can suddenly happen. Hypothermia and frostbite are also concerns, especially for the elderly and people with chronic health conditions. Ohio.gov shares these safety tips to help keep you and your family safe this winter season.

Snow Shoveling Safety

Keeping the sidewalks around your home clear of snow and ice can be a real challenge. Snow shoveling can cause serious injuries or death to people who are elderly, have chronic health problems, or are not used to strenuous activity. If you are in one of these categories, you may want to use a snow blower or hire a snow removal service. If you choose to do this heavy work yourself, remember that your body may tire quicker in the cold. Do not overextend yourself. Take short breaks in between shoveling. Exhaustion can make the body more susceptible to cold injuries.

Here are some tips:

  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots with rugged soles to help prevent slips and falls.
  • If you become short of breath while shoveling, stop and rest. If you feel pain or tightness in your chest, become dizzy, faint, or start sweating heavily, stop immediately and call for help.
  • Have a partner monitor your progress and share the workload. If you have a heart attack, your partner can call 911 and stay with you until help arrives.
  • Use a sturdy, lightweight shovel to push the snow out of the way. If you must lift the snow, take small scoops.
  • Warm up before shoveling by walking and stretching your arms and legs for a few minutes. Warm muscles are less likely to be injured and work more efficiently.
  • If you use a snow blower, keep in mind that pushing a snow blower through heavy, packed snow can affect your body. Do not overextend yourself and take short breaks.

Avoiding Slips & Falls

Winter in Ohio can be unpredictable. Snow, sleet, and icy roads and walkways can make getting around not only inconvenient but dangerous. Use these simple precautions to decrease your risk of falling:

  • Take it slow. Allow extra time to get places in the winter. If you don’t feel safe, ask for help.
  • When conditions are icy, walk with a buddy or carry a cell phone to call for help, if needed.
  • Watch for slippery surfaces ahead of you. Keep your head up and use your eyes to look down. Assume that surfaces that look slippery are, and find another way.
  • Keep rock salt (a chemical de-icing compound), sand, and a shovel available near entrances. Consider keeping a small bag of sand or rock salt in your coat pocket.
  • Don’t try to walk in more than an inch of snow. Deeper accumulations can cause you to trip.
  • Bundle up to stay warm, but make sure you can see in all directions and move freely. Wear mittens or gloves to keep your hands out of your pockets and free to help with balance.
  • Wear appropriate footgear. Winter boots that fit well provide more traction than tennis or dress shoes.
  • Check that the rubber tips on canes and walkers are in good repair. Replace, if necessary.
  • Don’t let the cooler weather and shorter days limit your activity. Ask your doctor or physical therapist about indoor exercises.
  • Increase the lighting in your home with extra lamps by using the highest-wattage bulbs recommended for your fixtures.
  • Keep space heaters, cords, and blankets out of walkways. If you must use throw rugs on cold floors, secure them to the floor with tape.

Frostbite

Frostbite is one of the most common cold-related injuries. Frostbite is an injury to the body caused by the freezing of skin tissue. Frostbite causes loss of feeling and color in the affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation, those who drink alcoholic beverages, the elderly, and people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin – frostbite may be beginning. The following signs may indicate frostbite: a white or grayish-yellow skin area; skin that feels usually firm or waxy; or numbness. A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.

What to do

If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. Because both frostbite and hypothermia result from exposure, first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia, as described above. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.

If there is frostbite but no sign of hypothermia and immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:

  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes. This can increase the damage.
  • Immerse the affected area in warm – not hot – water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch of unaffected parts of the body).
  • Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
  • Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it, at all. This can cause more damage.
  • Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.

These steps are not substitutes for proper medical care. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and frostbite should be evaluated by a healthcare provider. Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold-weather conditions. By preparing your home and car in advance for winter emergencies, and by observing safety precautions during times of extremely cold weather, you can reduce the risk of weather-related health problems.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Fire Prevention

As the weather turns cold, Ohioans look for ways to save on heating costs. The use of alternative heating sources such as portable heaters, fireplaces, and wood stoves increases. Fire deaths and carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning are increased risks from using alternate heating sources. Home heating equipment is among the top causes of fires and CO poisoning. The Ohio Departments of Health and Aging suggest the following safety tips to prevent injury from CO poisoning and fire:

  • Install a battery-operated CO detector and smoke alarms throughout the home, and check or replace the batteries twice a year, when you change the time on the clocks every spring and fall.
  • If the CO detector or smoke alarm sounds, leave the building immediately and call 911.
  • Have a fire safety escape plan. Keep escape routes clear and free of clutter and trip hazards. Keep a robe, slippers, eyeglasses, and keys close to the bed.
  • Have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, or coal-burning appliance serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning, or are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.
  • Do not heat your house by using a gas oven.
  • Do not run or warm a vehicle inside a garage that is attached to the home, even if the garage door is open.

If using a fireplace or wood stove:

  • Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist.
  • Keep the hearth area clear of debris, decorations, and flammable material.
  • Do not burn anything in a stove or fireplace that is not vented.
  • Do not leave fires burning unattended.

If using a portable heater:

  • Keep the heater at least one foot away from people, pets, and objects.
  • Do not leave portable heaters on when no one is home.
  • Turn the heater down or off when you are sleeping.
  • Unplug electrical appliances/heaters when not in use.
  • Never hang damp clothes near a heater to dry them.