Snow on the ground: Winter and safety

Health and Fitness, Topics
man shoveling show

With winter just days away, it might be easy to think that the risk for injuries are limited since the snowy/icy mix of weather will keep many people in-doors until the flowers bloom in the spring.

"In the summer, we see a lot of motorcycle accidents, boating and jet ski injuries, as well as outdoor-related traumatic injuries," said Marleen Nowakowski, trauma program manager at McLaren Macomb. "But during the winter months, the risk for slip-and-falls is significantly higher, especially in our geriatric population, and motor vehicle accidents related to weather conditions.

"We also see snowmobile, hunting, and falls off ladders while doing fall cleaning outside. We urge people to continue to take caution during their everyday activities."

Here are some of the more common winter health risks explained and how best to keep safe from them.

Hypothermia is a potentially dangerous drop in body temperature caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. The risk of cold exposure increases in winter months.
Children are more at risk than adults.
"¢ What to look for: shivering, lethargic and clumsy. Speech may be slurred and body temperature will decline in severe cases.
"¢ What to do: call 911. Take the child or adult indoors, remove wet clothing, and wrap him or her in blankets or warm clothes.

Frostbite will happen when body tissues (skin) become frozen. Frostbite tends to happen on extremities like fingers, toes, ears, and nose. Mostly body parts that are farther away from the body core.
"¢ What to look for: skin that becomes pale, gray and blistered. The child or adult may complain of their skin burning or becoming numb.
"¢ What to do: bring the child or adult indoors, place frostbitten parts of their body in warm (not hot) water. Warm washcloths may be used on the nose, ears, and lips. Do not rub the frozen areas. After a few minutes, dry and cover the child with clothing or blankets. If the numbness continues for more than a few minutes, call a physician.

Winter sports and other activities:
"¢ Dress warmly for outdoor activities. Several think layers will keep children and adults dry and warm. Wear warm boots, gloves/mittens, and a hat.
"¢ Set time limits for outdoor play. Periodically come inside to warm up.
"¢ Do not use alcohol or drugs before activities such as snowmobiling or skiing.

Winter driving as recommend by the National Safety Council:
"¢ If you plan to warm up your vehicle, do not leave the vehicle running in an enclosed area, such as a garage due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
"¢ Even running a car in an attached garage with the garage door open is never safe.
"¢ Check the weather report before heading out. If the forecast calls for a storm, it is best to stay off the roads.
"¢ Prepare your car for winter by having a mechanic check the condition of your vehicle.

How to avoid a crash:
"¢ If weather conditions like a whiteout catch you off guard, pull off the road and do not attempt to drive until conditions approve.
"¢ Do not mix radial tires with other types of tires.
"¢ Avoid using your parking break to slow or stop.
"¢ Do not use cruise control in wintery conditions.
"¢ Look and steer in the direction you want to go.
"¢ Accelerate and decelerate slowly.
"¢ Increase following distance to 8 to 10 seconds.
"¢ Know whether you have antilock brakes, which will "pump" the brakes for you in a skid.
"¢ If possible, do not stop when going uphill.
"¢ Keep your gas tank at least half-full.
"¢ If you get stranded, don't try to push your vehicle out of the snow.
"¢ Signal distress with a brightly colored cloth tied to the antenna or in a rolled up window.

"¢ Sled away from motor vehicles and avoid crowded areas.
"¢ Sled with feet first or sitting up instead of lying down head first to prevent head injuries.
"¢ Wear a helmet while sledding.
"¢ Children should be supervised while sledding. Keep young children separated from older children.
"¢ Look at the area you plan to sled at. The slope should be free of obstructions like trees or fences. Look for a snow-covered slope, not ice-covered. The slope should not be too steep and needs to end with a flat runoff.
"¢ Sleds should be free of sharp edges and splinters. Use a steerable sled and avoid using tubes or snow disks.

Skiing and snowboarding:
"¢ Take ski or snowboard lessons with a qualified instructor.
"¢ Do not ski or snowboard alone.
"¢ All skiers and snowboarders should wear helmets.
"¢ Wear the proper equipment and make sure it fits properly. Eye protection or goggles should be used.
"¢ Avoid areas with trees and other obstacles. Slopes should fit the ability and experience of the skier or snowboarder.
"¢ Avoid crowded slopes.

"¢ The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 16 not operate snowmobiles and that children under age 6 never ride on snowmobiles.
"¢ Do not use a snowmobile to pull a sled or skiers.
"¢ Wear the proper equipment approved for motorized vehicles including helmet and goggles.
"¢ Ride safely by keeping speeds down, never riding alone or at night.
"¢ Do not use any alcohol or drugs while operating a snowmobile.

Shoveling as recommended by the National Safety Council:
"¢ Nationwide, snow shoveling is responsible for thousands of injuries and as many as 100 deaths each year.
"¢ Do not shovel after eating or while smoking.
"¢ Take it slow and stretch out before you begin.
"¢ Shovel only fresh, powdery snow; its 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.
"¢ Do not work to the point of exhaustion.
"¢ Do not shovel snow without a doctor's permission if you have a history of heart disease. If you feel tightness in the chest or dizziness, stop immediately.

Ice skating:
"¢ Ice skating should only be done on approved surfaces. Check for signs posted by local police or recreation departments. You can call your local police department to find out which areas have been approved.
"¢ Do not skate alone. Skate in the same direction as the crowd and avoid skating across the ice.
"¢ Do not chew gum or eat candy while skating.
"¢ Wear a helmet to protect your brain if you should fall. Consider wearing knee pads and elbow pads.

Fire protection as recommended by the National Safety Council:
"¢ Buy and install smoke alarms on every floor of your home.
"¢ Replace the batteries every spring and fall (daylight savings time).
"¢ Test smoke alarms monthly.
"¢ Practice fire drills with your children.
"¢ Keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from anything that could burn, and turn them off when leaving the room or sleeping.

Carbon monoxide poisoning:
"¢ Install a carbon monoxide detector outside bedrooms.
"¢ Replace the batteries every spring and fall (during daylight savings time).
"¢ Do not heat your home with a gas range or oven.
"¢ Never run a car or truck inside an attached garage.

To learn more about emergency care and trauma services at McLaren Macomb, visit