Tips for staying safe when winter weather hits

By Kristen Dickerson, Ph.D., BWC Health and Wellness Manager

While the snow and ice may be beautiful, driving and walking on both can be hazardous.

Many suffer bruises, broken bones or concussions from falling on ice and snow, and Ohio has been the deadliest state for winter car accidents in recent years according to an analysis from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Auto Insurance Center.

The best way to prevent an accident is to stay inside, but if you do go out on the snow and ice, it’s important to proceed with caution and remember that preparation is key when it comes to preventing wintertime accidents.

To stay safe and avoid slip, fall and driving-related accidents from the snow and ice this winter, follow these tips.

Safe Stepping

  • Wear the proper footwear. You want to have shoes or boots with slip-resistant soles, and if you don’t, you should equip your footwear with traction cleats.
  • Walk like a penguin. It’s easy to picture and will help you remember how to walk safely on ice and snow. How do you walk like a penguin? Spread your feet out slightly to increase your center of gravity, take small steps, go slow and look where you’re Just like a penguin.
  • Keep your hands out of your pockets and free of items when walking (like a penguin). The temptation to keep your hands warm by using your pockets is understandable, but you’ll decrease your center of gravity and balance. Our hands can help break falls, protecting our face and brains from traumatic injuries.
  • Maintain your walkways and stairs. It’s best to shovel snow off before it gets trampled and packed down. Throw snow far enough away from your walkways, so that when it melts, it doesn’t drain back onto your walkways and freeze into ice sheets. If your walkways and stairs have ice on them, try sprinkling the surface with rock salt, but be mindful that rock salt can damage lawns. Once the ice starts to melt, brush or shovel the remaining ice away.
  • Warm up and stretch. Shoveling snow is physical exertion and can be taxing if we aren’t quite in tip top shape. Prior to shoveling avoid caffeine and nicotine, as this only increases the work your body is doing. Also consider wearing mittens, as they keep your hands warmer to do the shared surface area of your fingers.

Safe Driving

  • Remove all snow and ice from your car. Before you leave your driveway, you should make sure your car is completely cleared of snow and ice – this includes your exterior mirrors, headlights, taillights, hood, trunk and roof. This will ensure your visibility is not blocked and prevents anything from blowing off while you’re driving and hitting another vehicle.
  • Plan ahead. Check the weather and get your car inspected before traveling long distances in bad weather. Make sure you have topped off fluids and check your tire pressure.
  • Keep a cold weather emergency kit in your trunk. The kit can include bagged salt or kitty litter for traction. Blankets, extra hand protection, bottles of water, flashlights, folding shovels, hard tack candy, flares, jumper cables, and a first aid kit are also good ideas.
  • Stay alert. Never check your phone while driving and always avoid distractions when you’re behind the wheel, especially when road conditions are bad.
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Remember, applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Also, take time to slow down for stoplights and stop signs, as it can take longer to stop on icy roads.
  • Increase your following distance. The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This margin of safety will provide the distance needed if you have to stop.
  • Know your brakes. Whether you have anti-lock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold braking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
  • Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill as slowly as possible.

No one can stop the onset of winter; however, by planning and keeping safety top-of-mind, you can be prepared for the hazards. For more safety tips from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and advice on preventing slips, trips, falls, overexertions and driving-related accidents, visit BeSafeOhio.com.

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