Although snow, ice and cold have yet to be much of an issue this winter, it is always a good idea to be prepared and know how to stay safe during winter weather.
Winter’s various dangers to people can occur suddenly like a heart attack while shoveling snow, or slow and stealthily like carbon monoxide poisoning. Hypothermia and frostbite are always a concern, especially for the elderly and for people with chronic health conditions.
The Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Aging offer these safety tips to help keep you and your family safe this winter season.
Snow Shoveling Safety
Keep walkways around the home clear of snow and ice. 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.
• 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 and Falls
Winter in Ohio can be unpredictable. Snow, sleet and icy walkways can make getting around not only inconvenient, but dangerous. Use these simple precautions to decrease your risk of falling:
• 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 foot gear. 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.
When exposed to cold temperatures, the body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature.
Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.
Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40 degrees) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat or submersion in cold water. Hypothermia can also occur inside a building. The thermostat should be set no lower than 65-70 degrees if the occupants are 75 years or older.
Signs of Hypothermia include:
• Confusion or memory loss
• Slowed, slurred speech or shallow breathing
• Weak pulse or low blood pressure
• A change in behavior during cold weather or a change in the way a person normally looks
• A lot of shivering or no shivering; stiffness in the arms or legs
• Poor control over body movements or slow reactions
• Chilly rooms or other signs that a person has been in a cold place
Infants younger than 1 year of age are at risk. They should never sleep in a cold room and should wear warm clothing or a snug-fitting sleeper to prevent loss of body heat. Do not place blankets in the crib. Instead use a sleep sack to keep infants warm. Pre-warm vehicles before taking infants out into extreme cold weather.
Children lose heat faster than adults do. They have a larger head-to-body ratio than adults do, making them more prone to heat loss through the head. Ensure children playing outside cover their heads (with hats or hoods) and come inside periodically to warm up.
If you don’t eat well, you might have less fat under your skin. Fat can protect your body. It keeps heat in your body. Make sure you are eating enough food to keep up your weight.
If you think someone might have hypothermia it is advised to first take their temperature. If the temperature does not rise above 96 degrees call for help. This person must be seen by a physician.
While waiting for help to arrive, keep the person warm and dry. Wrap the person in extra blankets, coats and/or towels. Use whatever you may have available. Your own body can serve as warmth. Lie close, but be gentle. Rubbing the skin of an older adult can make problems worse because their skin is thinner and could easily be torn or injured by vigorous rubbing. Set the thermostat for at least 68 to 70 degrees.
Frostbite is one of the most common cold-related injuries. Frostbite is an injury to the body caused by freezing of skin tissue. 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 firm or waxy; or numbness. A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.
If symptoms are detected, seek medical care. If immediate care is not available: get into a warm room, immerse the affected area in warm water or warm the area using body. Do nut rub the frostbitten area or use a heating pad, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can easily be burned.
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, eye glasses 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.