Keeping Safe Amid The Dangers Of Winter Weather

Featured Speaker

Suzanne Grace, CPSTI

Winters can be tough. 

Months of frigid temperatures and heavy snow fall can make daily life difficult. 

You can, however, safely maneuver through winter weather by taking proper precautions, whether you are walking, driving or shoveling.

Suzanne Grace, CPSTI, is here to discuss the dangers of frigid winter weather.

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Melanie Cole (Host):  Winters can be tough. Months of frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall can make daily life difficult. You can, however, safely maneuver through winter weather by taking some proper precautions whether you are walking, driving, or shoveling. My guest today is Suzanne Grace. She is the Injury Prevention Coordinator and Child Passenger Safety Programmer at Maine Medical Center. Welcome to the show, Suzanne. Tell us about some of the most common risk areas for winter that people really need to be aware of. 

Suzanne Grace (Guest):  The interesting thing about winter is that it really changes the environment that we live and work in and it changes what we do throughout the day and how we do it. Some seasonal injuries that occur during the wintertime not only have to do with driving but how we live in our homes and how we function throughout the day. We’re talking car crashes – 24% of the car crashes during the winter are directly related to the weather. Carbon monoxide poisonings increase in the cold weather months because of heating our vehicles in the garage or using generators or other heat appliances that can introduce carbon monoxide into our homes. Then, surfaces that we are on like the ice and the snow--that can definitely increase our risk of falling as well as additional injuries when we participate in recreational sports. 

Melanie:  Suzanne, if we were to make a list starting with winter and things that you would want people to really concentrate on – why don’t you start with things like driving because it can be so hazardous – and make a list for us of things that we should go around our house and our cars and make sure that we have for safety. 

Suzanne:  Absolutely. Let’s start off with car crashes because they are the leading cause of death for children or adults. It’s a very common occurrence, so common that we almost take it for granted when we get in the car because nothing generally bad happens to us or is serious enough to cause us to change our behavior. When we mix icy conditions and snow with traveling on the road, it definitely increases our risk of crashing. Not aside from the crashing but just preparing for any other type of emergencies that occur in the car. For example, first of all, you want to make sure that your vehicle is in adequate condition:  that it has tires that are appropriate, not only appropriate for the vehicle but that they are safe, they have enough tread, they don’t have any deformities, and that they are properly inflated. That is an important thing to pay attention to. The tires are very important on a vehicle. How is the car in condition otherwise? Is the battery is charged? Make sure that you have at least a half a tank of gas if you are traveling out in the wintertime. You want to make sure, in case your car does break down or you are involved in an emergency and you need to stay warm in your vehicle, that you have enough gas to keep your car going. Having a first aid kit and also an emergency kit in your vehicle so that you can protect yourself while you are out and about on the road is very important. It’s also really important that if you don’t have to go out on the road, stay home if you can. Try to reschedule, look ahead at the weather, follow the advice that the professionals give to us about the weather conditions and the road conditions because even as good of a safe driver as we may be, it’s other people on the road that we need to be aware of as well. We can’t control what they do, so we want to make sure we are as protected as possible. That also includes making sure that we reduce our speeds if the road is hazardous. We also want to make sure that we give enough distance between the car ahead of us so that we can respond appropriately when stopping. Our car is not going to stop and respond as quickly as it would on a dry surface. Some of those common sense items that, while it is common sense, people don’t think about until they actually need to do it and realize, “Wow. Maybe if I would have stayed back a few more car lengths, maybe I would not have impacted that car and had time to stop.” Things like that really make a big difference. Making sure your windshield is clear so you’ll have clear visibility. If you do have to be out there, those are the safe tips to make sure your trip is safe and you return home safely. 

Melanie:  I certainly appreciate the fact that you are saying listen to the people who say don’t go out on the road if you don’t have to because people say, “Oh, I’m just going to run to Walgreens” or “That doesn’t really apply to me.” Then, it becomes a real issue for the police. They don’t want to have to get you when you have an accident or any of those types of things. That is really good advice in making sure you have extra warm clothes in your car and that sort of thing. What about shoveling and getting our kids walking if they walk to school? Things that we want to think about outside that you sometimes just can’t get around doing. 

Suzanne:  Yes. Absolutely. Making sure that our walkways are clear is definitely going to decrease the risk of falling. People don’t realize how serious a fall is. A fall is the leading cause of death of persons over the age of 65 in all conditions. When you add the slipperiness of the wintertime, that just increases that risk of falling. With children who are already vulnerable to falling because they are still unsteady and they are more courageous, I will say. They are more risk taking. They don’t understand that they need to follow the rules of the road, the crosswalks, hold the parents hand, etc. As adults, we are responsible for making sure that they are safe. In order to keep ourselves and our children safe while we are out and about, we want to make sure that we not only dress in layers so that if we happen to get wet, we are at less risk of getting a hypothermia condition or frostbite. Make sure that we are dressed in layers to protect us from the elements. Shoveling – I do want to touch upon that real quickly – because that is a serious issue with adults, especially. If an adult has any kind of condition – a cardiac condition, a heart condition, they need to talk to their doctor before they pick up a shovel. As tempting as it is, they need to make sure that they are safe. If they are shoveling and they experience any kind of chest pressure, chest pain, or shortness of breath, they need to stop immediately and contact their doctor. There are a number of incidences that happen when shoveling occurs where people don’t listen to their warning signs.  Unfortunately, heart attacks do occur as a direct result to the physical exertion of shoveling. That’s really important as well. Aside from that, protecting your body from back strains and any other kind of physical stresses from shoveling. Making sure that you are not shoveling heavier than you need to and pushing rather than lifting is a better way to remove the snow and reduce your risk of injury. 

Melanie:  What would you recommend somebody do if they do fall outside on the ice because, as you say, the older folks, if they fall, it could be very dastardly for them. Kids, we kind of just go and grab them, pick them up, and shove them right along. What if an older person falls? What do you tell them to do?

Suzanne:  If they fall and they need assistance, they need to be evaluated for whether they’ve been injured or not. Ninety-five percent of hip fractures that occur in older people are the result of a fall. We don’t want to move someone who has fallen until they have been examined by a medical professional. Of course, if we are outside in the cold, we need to keep them warm and get help as soon as possible to make sure that they are not more injured then they realize. Certainly, we as passerby’s can see that as well. We’re not medical professionals and we shouldn’t make that determination. We need to get someone on board so that they can determine and transport them to the nearest medical facility, if needed. That’s the best tips on that. If they fall keep them warm but call for help. Don’t have them get up and try to walk away unless they are in an unsafe area. If they are in a safe area, get some help and a medical evaluation. 

Melanie:  When we think of the wintertime and there are storms and ice and the power goes out, what do you want people to have on hand? In the summertime, power goes out so you don’t have air conditioning or lights but, in the wintertime, it could even be a little more dangerous. 

Suzanne:  Absolutely in the wintertime. That’s the key in staying in touch with the forecast of being aware when the storms are predicted so that we can prepare accordingly. Being caught off guard is one of the worst things you want because that is when you increase the risk of something bad happening to you or your loved ones. Being prepared, making sure you have a backup heat source that is cleaned, current, and ready to go and that you are prepared in case you do lose power of what your Plan B will be to keep you and your family warm. If you don’t have a backup heat source, then perhaps you need to go maybe to a family or friend or a community resource that does have the heat that you need. You do not want to say in your house without heat, especially in our colder climates where we do need to stay warm. Aside from that, if you do have a backup generator, which many families do nowadays, making sure that you are operating that appropriately and not inside a garage or any closed building or too close to a door or window where that carbon monoxide can infiltrate into the home.  Carbon monoxide is called the invisible killer because it is an odorless, colorless poisonous gas that can overcome people very quickly, often when they are sleeping. We want to make sure we keep everybody safe in our home by keeping that carbon monoxide outside and not inside our house. Keeping flashlights available because, again, increasing the risk of falls inside the home visibility is key. If you can’t see where you are going, you are more likely to trip and fall. Make sure you have the cell phones charged and ready to go in case you need to call for an emergency. You certainly want to call and let your power company know that your power is out in the area. Stocking up to make sure you have the essentials. Lots of bottled water. Taking some from your tap and setting it aside so that you have water because hydration is incredibly important as well. 

Melanie:  Thank you so much, Suzanne. In just the last minute here, give us your best advice. Wrap all of this great information up for us. 

Suzanne:  There is a lot of information and there are a lot of things you need to consider. This information isn’t to intend for people to be scared or to stay inside their house and never step outside. When you take the necessary actions to prevent things from happening, you can enjoy winter without risking an injury. Preparing ahead of time and making sure that you and your family have what you need to stay warm, to stay hydrated, to stay fueled, to stay safe as possible inside of your house and outside of your house. Lots of layers, make sure that you have adequate clothing for the winter conditions. If you are going to participate in recreational activities, make sure you are following the proper safety procedures. That means if a helmet is recommended for that activity, please wear a helmet. Make sure that it is worn appropriately and that it is fitted for that child or that adult. Adults are good models for children. They mimic what we do. We want to be able to do that with skiing, skating, sledding, snowmobiling, snowboarding, whatever activity you may participate in. You need to make sure that your body--especially your brain because it is the most important part of your body--is protected from preventable injuries. Most of all have fun, enjoy, but make it as safe as possible. 

Melanie:  Thank you so much. It’s really great information. You’re listening to MMC Radio. For more information you can go to MaineMedicalCenter.org. That’s MMC.org.  This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.