Wintertime in Wisconsin can be beautiful, but safety should be a top priority for individuals and families. Snow, ice and freezing temperatures can cause lots of hazards, which is why it’s important to remain aware of your surroundings and take the necessary measures to avoid serious injuries and illnesses.
Common winter injuries and how to prevent them
Slips and falls
Snow and ice are main culprits when it comes to slips and falls. Sprains, bruises, concussions and fractures are among the top reasons for ER visits in the month of January, according to Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, so take extra precaution in the wintertime, no matter where you are.
- Wear shoes or boots with rubber soles for a better grip. If you need to wear different shoes at work, carry your work shoes with you and change into them at the office.
- Watch where you’re walking. Black ice can be hard to spot in parking lots and on paved streets.
- Slow down when walking. Take your time and keep a short stride.
- Sprinkle salt or sand over walkways, steps and driveways.
Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it, resulting in a dangerously low body temperature. It is most often caused by exposure to bitter cold weather conditions or immersion in cold water. Hypothermia can cause the victim’s essential organs to not function properly, potentially leading to organ failure and possibly death if left untreated. Hypothermia can be caused by various instances, including wearing clothing unfit for the current weather conditions, being outside in the cold for too long, falling into freezing water or even being too cold indoors.
Some people are more vulnerable to hypothermia than others, including the elderly, young children and those with certain medical conditions. However, it’s important to be safe no matter your age or health condition.
- When possible, stay indoors if there is a severe weather advisory.
- Dress in warm layers.
- Wear a coat, hat, scarf, mittens/gloves and long underwear.
- Stay as dry as possible.
- Steer clear of frozen lakes for activities such as ice skating until you are confident the ice is safe.
- Make sure your indoor heat is functioning properly and keep it running at a minimum of 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Frostbite is a serious injury that occurs when the skin and underlying tissues freeze. Common symptoms of frostbite include cold-feeling skin, a prickling sensation, numbness, inflammation and discoloration (i.e., blue, purple or even black skin). Hands, feet, ears and the nose are the most vulnerable body parts. Frostbite is often caused by exposing bare skin in cold weather.
Tips to prevent Frostbite:
- Dress in loose, comfortable layers that help trap warm air.
- Wear mittens or gloves, warm socks (two pairs, if possible) and knit hats or headbands that fully cover the ears.
- Avoid prolonged time outdoors in frigid weather.
- Make sure snow cannot get inside your boots or clothing.
- Stay well-hydrated.
- Avoid alcohol, which can increase the risk of frostbite (per Mayo Clinic).
Back and neck injuries
Shoveling snow requires a full body workout, and not everyone is physically prepared to perform such a task. The required repetitive movements can put severe strain and stress on the body – particularly the back and neck. There are, however, ways to help prevent these types of injury.
- Stretch inside for a few minutes before shoveling to loosen up your muscles and get the blood flowing.
- Wear shoes or boots with good traction.
- When shoveling your driveway, sidewalk or other walking path, be cognizant of your posture. Scoop a little bit of snow at a time instead of lifting heavy loads.
- Take your time and, if necessary, hire a professional service to clear snow from your property.
Slick, icy roads are one of the major causes of winter road collisions. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, an average of 116,800 people in the U.S. are injured and 1,300 people are killed from motor-vehicle accidents due to winter weather conditions every year.
- Drive slowly and always be aware of other drivers. Never exceed the speed limit, even in normal conditions.
- Get your brakes checked before snowy weather hits your part of the state.
- Make sure you invest in the best winter tires.
- Use four-wheel drive if you have it.
- If possible, stay off the roads altogether in dangerous conditions.
If you experience any type of injury or are unsure of the severity, seek proper care immediately. To learn more about personal safety and what to do in case of an accident in the winter, reach out to your local Rural Mutual agent.