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Winter Home Safety

With winter coming into full effect for most areas, it’s a good time to talk about keeping safe during normal winter activities. US Consumer Product Safety Commission found the most common injuries during winter resided around decoration, hosting parties, and clearing snow. This should be no surprise that they included falls from ladders, burns from ovens/cooking, muscle strains during shoveling snow, and frostbite.  Today, we want to look at things you and your family can do to avoid injuries, and some thoughts on basic first aid if needed. This article is meant for informational purposes and not designed to substitute medical advice. When in doubt, contact a doctor. 

Falls from ladders accounted for over 164,000 injuries related to winter weather. Most of the incidents occur while using a ladder 10 feet or less from the ground. If you are using any ladder its important to have a stable base on firm ground. We’ve all seen the images of the extreme lengths people will go to reach just a little higher, or to use what they have with them versus getting the right equipment. All ladders will have a maximum safe height to use in specific configurations. For example, a standard “A-frame” ladder will say not to step above the last 2 steps. This is because the likelihood of falls or issues with stability increase the farther from the base you get. If you are using an extension ladder to get onto a roof, make sure to extend the top of the ladder at least 3 feet above your landing so you have something to grab onto when stepping off and on the ladder. Also, when using extension ladders you should make sure the base of the ladder is far enough away from the roof to be stable. OSHA recommends for every 4 feet up you go; the base should be 1 foot away from the vertical surface. Meaning, if you are going onto a 24-foot roof, your base should be 6 feet away from the roof edge. Common injuries will include punctures, broken bones, and concussions. For these injuries we recommend seeking medical attention if you have any reason to believe someone has sustained a fall. 

Kitchen burns are incredibly common during the holiday seasons. From grabbing a hot pan to burning your hands trying to carve the turkey.  The other common thing about burns is the incredible amount of misunderstanding about how to treat them. You can put butter on corn, noodles, and potatoes, but NOT on burns! I hear that one a lot. And no, margarine isn’t better. The best thing you can do for a burn is remove the source (to be blunt: stop touching the burnie thing) and run the burn under cool or cold water. You don’t want hot or ice, but cool water. You should hold the area under the water for several minutes. If the burns are on the face, blister immediately, have clothing stuck to the injury, or the young or elderly are burned, seek medical attention! Do not try to remove anything stuck to the burn, let the ER do that. The best way to help these injuries is to prevent them by using potholders, trivets, or to communicate with guests what’s hot, including which burner on a stove may still be hot.

Shoveling snow is an activity many of us will have to do, and something most of us aren’t looking forward to. Some hazards include slipping and falling, muscle strains, and cardiac arrest for those at risk. Shoveling snow can be very physically demanding and because of the cold some areas may start going numb before we realize we are overtaxing the muscles. Some good advice here is to take frequent breaks and rest if you have a large area to shovel. If there is going to be a lot of snow make several trips to shovel before you have all the snow, so you are shoveling smaller amounts more frequently. It’s easier to shovel 2 inches 3 times than 6 inches at once. Plus, there may now be ice under the snow making it more treacherous. Obviously if you can pay someone or get a snow blower, those are the best options. If you think you may have strained a muscle the best option is to remember RICE. Rest, Immobilize, Cold, Elevate. Rest the area, prevent using it, use cold compresses to reduce swelling, and elevate the area.  If you are having trouble breathing, your chest feels tight, or you have any other sign/symptom of heart attack, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately! 

While shoveling snow may not be fun, going skiing, ice-skating, or sledding could be great wintertime activities! But they all share the possibility of frostbite. You can prevent frostbite by keeping vulnerable areas covered and dry, layer clothing, and limit your duration of exposure. Frostbite most commonly effects areas like your toes, fingertips, ears, and nose. These areas generally lose blood flow first when the body tries to conserve your body heat. Frostbite isn’t something you notice on yourself initially because the area goes numb. Signs include the area being soft and red (for light skinned) or lightened (if dark skinned). As frostbite progresses there may be blisters with clear fluid or blood. Treatment is universal here: don’t pop blisters, remove wet clothing, and warm the area gently. You don’t want to put heat directly on the area or give them alcohol. Skin to skin contact is the best way to warm areas with the least damage. Once the area gets blood flow back cover them with a warm dry cloth to prevent further damage. Severe frostbite where areas have turned white, gray, or blue should seek medical attention.

Winter can be a magical wonderland of snow, family, and great food. There are also potential hazards that can be mitigated with a little preparation. I always recommend taking a couple steps back and thinking about what you need before you start a project, whether that’s hanging Christmas lights, baking a pie, or going sledding with the family. A little forethought can prevent injuries, or at least better prepare you to respond. When I go skiing or sledding, I have a small first aid kit and tourniquet as a precaution. For more info and a great quick reference guide the Red Cross has a great first aid app that I highly recommend. The app is great, but it doesn’t replace real world training.