Being Safe During Cold Weather

— Written By Jeannie Leonard and last updated by Jill Cofer
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Thermometer in snowThe onset of winter brings cold-weather discomfort to the elderly. It can also bring special safety hazards. Ice, snow and extreme cold can cause falls and automobile accidents and increased heating can result in fuel storages or home fires. But, winter does not need to be dangerous. Simple precautions can increase the safety of everyone during the winter season.

Before cold weather sets in, have all home heating systems checked. Your furnace should be serviced by a professional. Clean your wood stove or fireplace chimney yearly and replace any loose bricks and mortar promptly. Know where all the shutoff valves and switches are.

Before you use a portable heater in the winter, check beforehand for frayed cords or broken filaments. If the heater has a three-pronged plug, use an adapter for a three-pronged outlet, but never bypass the grounding feature. Heaters should have an automatic shutoff if they overturn. Keep combustibles away from heaters and avoid using a portable heater near curtains and furniture.

When cleaning ashes from a wood stove or fireplace, use a metal container and leave the container outside when finished. Do not add combustible material to the ash can at any time. A cold fire may still contain one or two live embers that can easily start to burn when fuel is added.

Make sure an escape route is planned in case of a fire. Keep all hallways and stairs clear of obstacles and check window exits to be sure they are not frozen shut. If you have a second story, have a rope or a chain ladder to help you escape from a fire.

Be prepared for energy problems. Heavy snows and high winds can often cause power outages, so keep energy supplies in an easily accessible place. Emergency supplies should include candles or a lantern, a battery powered radio, a flashlight with fresh batteries and a supply of extra, ready-to-eat food. If the power fails for an extended period, turn off all electrical appliances, keep your refrigerator and freezer door closed, draw curtains to preserve heat, and turn water on to a trickle so pipes won’t freeze. If possible, call the power company to report the outage.

Being outdoors in the winter had its own special challenges. When walking outside, wear shoes with maximum traction and wear several layers of clothing to increase insulation and prevent overheating. The outer layers of clothing should be hooded, wind and waterproof, and wear a hat to retain body heat. When possible, choose mittens instead of gloves for increased warmth. Finally wear sunglasses to protect against winter glare.

While walking, watch for slippery patches. Do not overload your arms so it is difficult to keep your balance. Don’t block your vision with what you are carrying. Walk on the sidewalks, even if the streets are clearer. And, remember that darkness falls earlier in the winter than in other times of the year.

Remove snow with caution and know your exertion limit. Avoid doing too much physical work at one time and rest often. Overwork can cause sore muscles, falls and heart attacks. Make sure to use a good snow shovel and, when shoveling, lift with your leg muscles rather than your back. All heavy work should be done before eating. Don’t smoke or drink alcohol while working because smoke will decrease the flow of blood through your body and alcohol increases the chances of overworking your body.

Using snow blowers will save time and energy. Have a firm footing when starting the blower. Remove all obstacles from the path and aim the snow carefully. NEVER try to unclog the chute with the motor running. Don’t wear loose clothing that can be caught in the machine. Avoid operating on steep hills or graveled surfaces.

Here are some final tips for your cold weather safety. Make sure all inside lights are working with high wattage bulbs that provide good vision. Keep enough lights on so you can move around the house with ease. Keep your home’s temperature at a reasonable level and check fuel supplies on a regular basis. If you use electric blankets, never place wet towels or other blankets on top of them. Avoid using an electric blanket on a sick person who cannot operate the controls.

Winter can be a beautiful and peaceful time of year. Using these precautionary measures and common sense can help you have a safe and enjoyable season.