Winter Weather Safety
Indoor Winter Safety
Heating Your Home
- Make sure your heater is in safe working order. Schedule an appointment with an HVAC professional to make sure your heater is clean, working properly and ventilated to the outside.
- Have a professional inspect and clean the fireplace and chimney if you use a gas or wood-burning fireplace.
- If you use electric space heaters, check to see if they have automatic shut-off switches, non-glowing elements and that the cord is in good condition. Keep space heaters three feet away from flammable materials, like curtains or blankets. Never cover your space heater.
Power and Supplies
Heavy snow and ice on power lines, in addition to high winds, can cause them to snap and fall. As a result, you should be prepared to potentially lose power.
- Check to see if you have plenty of flashlights and batteries.
- Have nonperishable food and water bottles on hand.
- Be sure you are stocked with baby and pet supplies, if applicable.
Be Generator Safe
If you use a generator when the power goes out, you must be careful about carbon monoxide. Do not set it up in the house, basement, or garage. Generators should be at least 20 feet from any window, door, or vent. Purchase a battery-operated CO detector if you do not already have one.
Outdoor Winter Safety
Dressing appropriately for the weather is important. Wear layers of light, warm clothing, mittens, hats, scarves, and waterproof boots. Do not ignore shivering. It is an important first sign that your body is losing heat. Constant shivering is a sign that it is time to go inside.
Don’t forget to keep extra clothing, blankets, snacks and water in your car. If you have car trouble or become stuck in bad weather, you'll want to be prepared.
Watch for Fall Hazards
Unfortunately, falls are common, especially during the winter. Icy, snowy roads and sidewalks make it particularly easy to slip and fall, and these falls can cause major injuries such as hip and wrist fractures.
While younger people recover fairly quickly from these sorts of injuries, older adults may experience complications, which are a leading cause of death from injury in people over the age of 65. Experts advise wearing shoes with good traction and non-skid soles. If you use a cane, be sure to replace a worn tip to make walking easier, as well.
Not everyone can shovel snow without risk. Pushing the weight of snow after being inactive for months can strain the heart and cause a heart attack. And, don't forget that pushing a heavy snow blower can also cause injury. Cold weather can also raise heart rate and blood pressure, increase blood clotting, and constrict arteries. This is especially risky for those over 40 or who are inactive. National Safety Council recommends the following tips to shovel safely:
- Do not shovel after eating or while smoking
- Take it slow and stretch out before you begin
- Shovel only fresh, powdery snow; it's 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
- Know the signs of a heart attack, and stop immediately and call 911 if you're experiencing any of them; every minute counts
- Don't pick up that shovel without a doctor's permission if you have a history of heart disease.
Health Risks in Cold Weather
- Asthma – If you have asthma, breathing in cold, dry air can trigger an asthma attack.
- Hypothermia – Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposure to frigid temperatures. Lengthy exposures eventually use up your body’s stored energy, lowering body temperature. Low body temperature can affect the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well.
- Frostbite – Frostbite leads to a loss of feeling and color in the areas it affects. It usually occurs in extremities such as the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. Someone with frostbite may not know they have it until someone else points it out because the frozen parts of their body are numb.
If you experience frostbite, put the areas in warm—not hot—water. The temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body. 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 quickly burn.
Protect Against Respiratory Illnesses
Low vaccination rates for the flu, COVID-19, and RSV are putting Americans at a higher risk for severe illnesses and hospitalization this winter, according to a new alert from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which is also alerting physicians to an “urgent need” to boost vaccination rates for these three viruses spreading rapidly. Speak to your provider about getting vaccinated or how to protect yourself and loved ones from these illnesses.
By: Amy Sandoval