Start the New Year Injury-Free with These Winter Safety Tips

By Garrett Hylton

While many of us in northern Nevada enjoy the beauty and serenity of our winter landscapes, the snow, ice, and cold present several obstacles. Everything is a little more difficult in winter.

Whether it’s staying warm, removing snow, or just walking and driving, there are safety precautions to keep in mind. Here are some guidelines as we go about enjoying our winter wonderland.

Be Mindful of the Cold

Dress appropriately for the weather. As temperatures drop, remember to wear layers of warm, loose clothing. Don’t forget your jacket. Always cover your head and ears. When it comes to your hands, mittens are better than gloves— always protect your fingers. Finally, cover your feet with warm, dry socks.

Dressing appropriately and limiting exposure is essential because frostbite and hypothermia are common and potentially deadly during the winter months.

Frostbite most commonly affects appendages: fingers, toes, chin, cheeks, ears, and nose. Less-severe frostbite affects the skin and will have a white, waxy, or grayish-yellow appearance. If the condition worsens, deeper layers of skin are affected. Appendages suffering from deep frostbite will turn black and numb as the tissue dies. The consequences of severe frostbite can include amputation.

Here’s what the National Safety Council recommends if you suspect frostbite:

  • Move the victim out of the cold and into a warm place.
  • Remove wet clothing and constricting items.
  • Use dry gauze between fingers and toes.
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
  • Warm the frostbitten area in lukewarm water (99 to 104 degrees) for 20 to 30 minutes, but only if medical care will be delayed and there is no danger of the skin refreezing.
  • Do not use chemical warmers directly on frostbitten tissue.
  • Protect and elevate the frostbitten area.

Hypothermia happens when the body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees. Severe shivering is one of the first signs of hypothermia, followed by drowsiness or confusion.

If you encounter someone suffering from hypothermia, the National Safety Council recommends the following:

  • Check responsiveness and breathing. Call 911. Except in mild cases, the victim needs immediate medical care.
  • Provide CPR if the victim is unresponsive and not breathing normally.
  • Quickly move the victim out of the cold.
  • Remove wet clothing.
  • Warm the victim with blankets.
  • If the victim is far from medical care, use active rewarming by putting the victim near a heat source and putting containers of warm (not hot) water against the skin.
  • Do not rub or massage the victim’s skin.
  • Be gentle when handling the victim.
  • Give warm (not hot) drinks to an alert can easily swallow, but do not give alcohol or caffeine.

Shovel With Caution

Snow removal is nothing new for northern Nevadans. However, shoveling is responsible for thousands of injuries each year. Strenuous activity in cold temperatures can increase the risk of heart attack. According to the American Heart Association, sudden exertion can place extra strain on the heart, and cold weather increases heart rate and blood pressure.

The National Safety Council recommends the following tips:

  • Do not eat or smoke while shoveling.
  • Take it slow and stretch before you begin.
  • Shovel only fresh, powdery snow.
  • Push the snow rather than lift.
  • If you do lift, 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.
  • Know the signs of a heart attack and stop immediately to call 911 if you experience any of them.

Slips, Trips, & Falls

Regardless of where you work, even coming and going from your office can create the potential for injury. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, slips, trips, and falls account for more than 200,000 lost-time accidents in the United States each year. Risks are heightened during the winter. Follow these tips:

  • Survey your route and note any surface changes or areas that look extra icy.
  • Wear appropriate footwear with adequate traction.
  • Give yourself extra time. Focus on footing—even if it means walking like a penguin with short, slow steps.
  • When possible, use marked paths that are more likely to be maintained.
  • Put your cellphone away so you can focus on where you are walking.
  • Use handrails whenever possible.
  • When getting out of your car or stepping off a curb, step down instead of out.

Space Heater Safety

Space heaters can be an easy and effective way to heat specific areas in your home, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission reports space heaters are involved in more than 1,000 home fires every year.

  • Adhere to the CPSC’s 3-foot rule. Keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from kids, pets, and anything flammable, including bedding, clothing, furniture, and curtains.
  • Don’t try to hide or conceal your space heater at the expense of safety.
  • Don’t leave space heaters unattended or on when you are not home. Space heaters with timers can help minimize the risk.
  • Water and electricity don’t mix. With people coming out of the cold and snow, be careful about moisture or melting snow and ice around space heaters.
  • Check space heater power cords for fraying or damage to avoid catastrophe.
  • Plug your space heater directly into the wall outlet, but always unplug it before you leave the house or go to bed.
  • Allows follow the directions and take a broken space heater to a qualified appliance service center.

Winter can be a beautiful but dangerous time. Please keep these tips in mind to enjoy a safe and healthy start to 2021.