This article was originally published in December 2015 and has been updated.
The arrival of winter brings with it various safety hazards. Along with snow, comes heavy winds, sleet, and freezing rain. This time of year, many people injure themselves by slipping and falling from steps, sidewalks, loading docks, and even from stepping out of their vehicles.
Weather forecasters predict the strongest El Niño event in the last 50 years with far reaching impacts that will last through spring. Due to a milder winter, snow cover is expected to be slightly lower than average throughout most of the US. Along with the hopes that El Niño will bring much needed rain to California, the Southern U.S. and parts of the East Coast are also anticipated to be wetter than normal.
As a result, many parts of the US will likely encounter increased episodes of freezing rain conditions which is far more slippery than snow. Freezing rain coats our sidewalks and cars in ice. It occurs when super cooled rain droplets hits the ground, hanging wires, or tree branches and instantly freezes.
During these types of weather conditions, ambulance workers are well aware of the significant increase in responding to medical emergencies associated with fractured hips, ankles, and wrists.
To help keep yourself safe and injury-free under these weather conditions, here are some key practices to follow:
- Wear appropriate footwear with rough (waffled, ridged or heavily textured soles) for increased traction.
- When entering buildings, remove snow and water from footwear to prevent slippery conditions indoors.
- Keep walkways clear of debris, water, ice and slippery materials.
- Use temporary signs, cones, or barricades to warn people passing by. Make sure to remove them once the hazard has passed, or they will eventually be ignored.
- Take smaller steps when walking and proceed slowly while maintaining your center of gravity directly over the feet as much as possible. In this way, you can react quickly to a change in traction.
- Keep both hands free for balance rather than in your pockets.
- Be aware of changes in walking surfaces. Test potentially slick areas by tapping your foot on them.
- Concentrate on the path ahead. Keep your eyes on where you are going and anticipate obstacles.
- Use handrails near stairs (from start to finish).
- Walk within designated walkways as much as possible.
Safe Winter Driving
Keep your headlights on, particularly during inclement weather. Make sure that your headlights, taillights, and windows are clean so you can see and be seen.
- When it is safe to do so, test the road surface carefully by gently applying your brakes to familiarize yourself with the extent of the icy road conditions.
- Beware of icy spots, especially on bridges and in sheltered areas. Drive at reduced speeds and slow down gradually when approaching curves and stops.
- In the event of freezing rain, keep your car off the road and travel only if absolutely necessary. Freezing rain can make roads extremely slippery within seconds. If you can, wait until roads have been salted or sanded, and stick to major routes. Remember that it takes longer to stop on snow and ice, so stay well behind the car in front of you.
- Shoveling snow can put strain on the body which is intensified when muscles are tightened by the cold. When shoveling snow, it’s possible to suffer from either exhaustion or dehydration, along with the increased risk for a back injury. For this reason, take breaks and follow proper body mechanics such as lifting with the legs and keeping the back straight.
In conclusion, by pro-actively following the necessary precautions and safe practices, you can prevent yourself and possibly others from a potential injury because whether serious or not--slips and falls hurt.