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Published on December 26, 2012

Winter Safety

By Randy Bylander
Director of Planning and Facilities

Along with the snow, sleet and cold, you should be thinking about winter safety this year. Winter presents many safety challenges both indoors and out. Being prepared and following simple safety tips can help you stay safe and warm this winter season.

Keeping Your Home Safe and Warm

Following these safety tips can prevent injuries and deaths related to heating your home.

  • Install a smoke alarm near bedrooms and on each floor of your home. Test it monthly. If it has a 9-volt battery, change the battery once a year.
  • Install a carbon monoxide (CO) alarm near bedrooms and on each floor of your home. If your alarm sounds, press the reset button, call emergency services (911 or your local fire department), and immediately move to fresh air (either outdoors or near an open door or window). Know the symptoms of CO poisoning: headache, fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath. If you experience any of these symptoms, get fresh air right away and contact a doctor for proper diagnosis.
  • If you use a kerosene heater, use only the fuel recommended by the manufacturer. Never put gasoline in a kerosene heater – it could explode. Before you refuel the heater, turn it off and let it cool down. Refuel outside only.
  • Make sure heating equipment is installed and operating properly.
  • When using a kerosene heater, keep a door open to the rest of the house or open a window slightly. This will reduce the chance of carbon monoxide build-up in the room.
  • Have your fireplace, chimney and flue inspected each year and cleaned if needed. Open the flue and use a sturdy fireplace screen when you have a fire. Burn only untreated wood; never burn paper or pine branches – pieces can float out the chimney and ignite your roof or nearby trees.
  • Never use your range or oven to heat your home, even for a short time.
  • Make certain roof vents are unobstructed after a heavy snow.

Surviving a Winter Storm

To survive a snow or ice storm, follow these safety tips.

  • Be prepared. Have a contingency plan in case of power failure. Keep a multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher nearby when using alternative heating sources.
  • Keep these items available at all times: extra blankets, flashlights with extra batteries, matches, first aid kit, manual can opener, snow shovel and rock salt, and special needs items.
  • Stock a few days' supply of water, required medications and food that does not need to be refrigerated or cooked.
  • Monitor the temperature of your home. Infants and persons over age 65 are especially susceptible to cold. If it's not possible to keep your home warm, stay with friends, family or neighbors.
  • Dress in several layers to maintain body heat. Covering up with blankets can also conserve heat.

Walking On Snow and Ice

Walking through snow or on icy surfaces can be hazardous. To prevent injuries, follow these safety tips.

  • Wear appropriate footwear with good traction.
  • Take your time – plan ahead.
  • Watch your step.
  • Use common sense.

Clearing Snow and Ice

Clearing snow and ice from driveways and sidewalks is hard work. To prevent injuries, follow these safety tips.

  • Dress warmly, paying special attention to feet, hands, nose and ears.
  • Wear appropriate footwear with good traction.
  • Avoid shoveling snow if you are out of shape. If you have a history of heart trouble, do not shovel snow unless your doctor says it's okay.
  • Do light warm-up exercises before shoveling and take frequent breaks.
  • If possible, push snow in front of you. If you have to lift it, pick up small amounts and lift with your legs, not your back.
  • Don't drink alcohol before or while shoveling snow.
  • Use rock salt or de-icing compounds to remove ice from steps, walkways and sidewalks. Sand placed on walkways may also help prevent slipping.
  • If you use a snow blower, follow these safety guidelines:
    • Read the owner's manual before starting your snow blower. Make sure you understand all the recommended safety steps.
    • Make sure all people and pets are out of the way before you begin.
    • Do not put your hand in the snow blower to remove impacted snow or debris. Turn the machine off and wait a few seconds. Then use a stick or broom handle to remove the material.
    • Do not leave the snow blower unattended when it is running.
    • Fill up with fuel before you start, when the engine is cool.

Driving Safely In Winter Weather

Snow, ice and extreme cold can make driving treacherous. These safety tips can help make winter car travel safer.

  • Before winter arrives, have your car tuned up, check the battery and antifreeze levels and check your tire tread or put on snow tires.
  • Keep emergency gear in your car for everyday trips:
    • cell phone
    • flashlight
    • jumper cables
    • sand or kitty litter (for traction)
    • ice scraper, snow brush and small shovel
    • blankets
    • warning devices (e.g., flares, reflectors)
  • For long car trips, keep food, water, extra blankets and required medication on hand.
  • Avoid driving in snow or ice storms. If you must travel in bad weather, drive slowly. Let someone know what route you're taking and when you plan to arrive so they can alert authorities if you don't arrive.
  • If your car is parked outside, make sure the exhaust pipe and the area around it are free of snow before you start the car. Snow packed in or around the exhaust pipe can cause high levels of carbon monoxide in the car.
  • Don't sit in a parked car with the engine running unless a window is open. Do not let your car run while parked in a garage.
  • If your car stalls or gets stuck in snow, light two flares and place one at each end of the car, a safe distance away. Make sure snow has not blocked the exhaust pipe. Then stay in your vehicle and open a window slightly to let in fresh air. Wrap yourself in blankets and run your vehicle's heater for a few minutes every hour to keep warm.

Avera Sacred Heart Hospital hopes these safety steps help you enjoy a safe winter season.