Winter Safety Tips: Staying Prepared and Remaining Healthy

January 13, 2023 // Article by: Steven Weinstein

The winter season often brings brutal cold and treacherous conditions, which can pose several risks to your health and can lead to injury / death if proper precautions are not taken. Associated hazards with winter weather and the cold season include snow removal, slips and falls, and cold stress illnesses. So how do you combat these risks?

First and foremost you should ensure that you are getting enough sleep every night and drinking enough water / fluids. Adequate sleep is widely considered to be 8 hours per night and as a general rule of thumb remaining hyrdrated means drinking at least 8 glasses of water per day (64 ounces), avoiding coffee, sugary beverages, energy drinks, sodas, and alcoholic beverages that actually lead to dehydration. Dehydration is an often overlooked aspect in the winter season as the body may not feel as thirsty as during the summer months, but it can have detrimental effects on performance and on the body. Additionally, these winter hazards may pose an increased risk to you if you are taking certain medications, are in poor physical condition, and / or suffer from other illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease. Let's take a deeper look into some of these common hazards as well as proper mitigation techniques that will help to increase your awareness and to prevent potential injuries and illnesses.

 

Snow Removal / Shoveling: Snow removal and particularly shoveling snow is often strenuous and can even be a dangerous activity if precautions are not taken. Injuries and fatalities can occur with shoveling, and heavy, wet snow often exacerbates this risk. Snow removal can lead to exhaustion, dehydration, back injuries, and/or heart attacks from overexertion. To avoid injuries you should:

 

Slips and Falls: Winter precipitation often causes roads, sidewalks, and other surfaces to become slick and icy both during and after the storm. This poses a risk for you to slip and fall. Slick surfaces can be those that are snow / sleet covered or a result of icing from freezing rain or refreeze. Surfaces that turn icy can be opaque or clear (i.e., black ice), the latter of which is especially hard to see and dangerous. Slip and falls can lead to injury or even death if proper precautions are not taken. To avoid the risk of slips and falls, you should:

 

Cold Stress: Operating outside during the winter season is a commonality, but being exposed to sub-freezing and extreme cold conditions for extended periods can pose a risk to your health if not properly prepared for it, and can lead to a variety of cold stress illnesses such as frostbite, hypothermia, and trench foot. The risk and onset of such illnesses is also exacerbated by other factors such as the wind speed and wind chill temperature. Frostbite can impact the extremities of your body and especially your fingers, toes, nose, and ears. When bare skin is exposed to cold temperatures for a prolonged period, this can cause part of the body to freeze, damaging the tissue. Symptoms of frostbite inlcude numbness, tingling or stinging, a loss of feeling or color, firm / waxy skin, or white / grayish-yellow skin in the affected area(s).

Hypothermia could also develop when exposed to cold temperatures for a prolonged period, and occurs when your body temperature drops to unusually low levels, with a body temperature below 95 degrees considered an emergency that requires medical care.  Hypothermia affects the brain and symptoms include shivering, fatigue, fumbling hands / loss of coordination, memory loss, slurred speech, drowsiness, confusion, or disorientation. 

Lastly, trench foot is another often overlooked hazard which can occur in cold weather as well as temperatures up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It occurs when your feet remain cold and wet for a prolonged period which can slow blood flow and lead to a loss of feeling and ultimately damage tissue in the feet. To avoid the risk of frostbite, hypothermia, and trench foot you should always:

 

Sources:

https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/OSHA3982.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/updates/upd-01-23-19.html

https://www.ready.gov/winter-weather#safe

https://www.osha.gov/winter-weather/hazards

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