Winter safety tips

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snowshovelremoval

Courtesy of Dr. Dan Belford, director of ER for Chatham-Kent Health Alliance.

Winter temperature paired with wind can cause severe injuries due to frostbite and even death due to hypothermia. Most susceptible to these cold weather problems are the elderly, children, the homeless, outdoor workers and sport enthusiasts.

Here are a few tips to prevent the cold weather in becoming a life-threatening event.

  • Wear a hat – up to 40% of body heat loss can occur through the head.
  • Wear gloves or mittens.
  • Wear a scarf to protect the chin, lips and cheeks – all are extremely susceptible to cold weather injuries.
  • Drink warm fluids, but no alcohol. Alcohol promotes other cold weather injuries.
  • If you start to sweat, cool off a little. Wet clothes will also encourage other cold weather injuries.
  • Wear clothes in layers.
  • Always be on the lookout for signs of frostbite and hypothermia. In case of serious cold weather injury, seek immediate medical attention.

Frostbite mostly affects areas where the circulation is poor. Since cold weather will cause the body to take preventive measures by constricting (making smaller) the blood vessel, this opens the door to frostbite injuries.

 Should frostbite set-in:

  • Do not rub or massage affected areas. It may cause more damage.
  • Warm up the area slowly. Use a warm compresses or your own body heat to re-warm the area. Underarms are a good place.
  • If toes or feet are frostbitten, try not to walk on them.
  • Seek medical attention if you see white or grey coloured patches.

 Signs of hypothermia:

Look for the “UMBLES” from people affected by cold temperatures.

  • A person with hypothermia mumbles, stumbles or fumbles objects.
  • For infants, look for cold reddish skin and low energy.

What to do in case of hypothermia:

  • Remove wet clothing that promotes hypothermia.
  • Get to a warm place as soon as possible. Use several layers of blankets heated in your home dryer if possible.
  • If the person is alert, give warm beverages. Never give alcoholic beverages.
  • Seek immediate medical attention.

Winter driving survival kit

It’s a good thing to keep a winter survival kit in your vehicle. Having essential supplies can provide some comfort and safety for you and your passengers should you become stranded. Recommended items:

  • Ice scraper/snowbrush/shovel
  • Sand or other traction aid and a tow rope or chain
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Extra clothing and footwear, and a blanket
  • Non-perishable energy foods – e.g. chocolate or granola bars, juice, instant coffee, tea, soup, bottled water.
  • Candle, a small tin can and matches.

 Snow shovelling safety tips

Shovelling snow is hard work, especially when the snow is wet and heavy. And if you don’t tackle this task in the same way you’d handle a hazardous job at work, you could injure your back, pull muscles, get frostbite and even suffer a heart attack.

 Here are some snow shovelling safety tips from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety:

  • Don’t Shovel Snow If You’re Not Physically Fit: Shoveling snow can strain your heart and back. Try to avoid the job if you aren’t in good physical shape, are older, overweight or have a history of back or heart problems. Either hand the shovel to somebody who is fit to do it or use a snow blower to clear the snow.
  • Warm Up Your Muscles before You Shovel: As with any physically demanding exercise, consult with your doctor to ensure you’re fit enough to do it. Before you begin shoveling, do warm-up stretches and flexing exercises to loosen up the muscles and prepare them for the job ahead.
  • Lighten the Load with the Right Snow Shovel: A snow shovel should be lightweight, about 1.5 kilograms and the blade shouldn’t be too large. Otherwise your load will be too heavy, putting too much stress on your heart and back. The handle should be long enough so that you don’t have to stoop to shovel, and the grip should be made of plastic or wood because metal gets too cold. As a general guideline, the shovel (blade plus handle) should be elbow height when standing upright.
  • Bundle Up When You Shovel: Wear several layers of warm, lightweight clothing that’s easy and comfortable to move in. Make sure your head (especially your ears), feet and hands are well covered. Your winter boots should be warm, water-resistant and high-cut, and provide good traction. Gloves should be light and flexible and give you a good grip. If it’s really cold, wear something over your mouth. And don’t shovel at all if the temperature drops below -40C, or below -25C to -30C when it’s windy.
  • Pace – Don’t Race: Shoveling snow in heavy-duty clothing can be as strenuous as weightlifting. You may want to get the job over with as fast as you can, but it’s better to keep moving and work at a steady pace. A good recommended rate for continuous shoveling is usually considered to be around 15 scoops per minute. Shoveling is going to make you sweat and, if you stop, you could get a chill. The trick is to shovel efficiently without becoming fatigued.
  • Push – Don’t Lift
  • Push the snow rather than lifting it. If you must throw it, take only as much snow as you can easily lift. And remember, the wetter the snow, the heavier it is. Consider using a snow scoop to push the snow. The scoop helps you to move snow with less effort by riding up over the snow to allow you to move it without ever having to lift it.
  • Face – Don’t Twist: Turn your feet to the direction you’re throwing. Don’t twist at the waist. Don’t throw snow over your shoulder or to the side.
  • Rest and Recover: Take frequent breaks and drink some warm non-alcoholic fluids. In extreme conditions, such as very cold and windy weather, 15 minutes of shoveling should be followed by 15 minutes of rest.

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