Local Lifestyle

Prevent wintertime falls with these safety tips

by Kate Evans

Falls on snow and ice can cause serious injuries like sprains, broken bones or concussions or worse during winter’s roughest patches.

Many safety precautions can be taken to reduce the risk of slipping, tripping and falling for people of all ages – and they apply at any time of the year.

Health officials urge that everyone watch for slippery and icy sidewalks, walkways, driveways, roadways and parking lots, and to plan ahead to allow extra time to get to their destination during the winter.

Footwear, clothing

Wear sturdy,  flat-heeled boots or shoes that have rubber or composite grip soles to give you traction on snow and ice. Avoid wearing shoes with slick leather or plastic soles or shoes with heels because they could cause you to slip.

Carry less durable dress shoes to work instead of wearing them. Put ice cleats on your boots or shoes for extra traction but be sure to take them off before entering buildings as they can make you slip on indoor floors.

Dress warmly. Wear extra clothes and gloves to protect yourself and give you more padding if you fall.

Step slowly and carefully from any vehicle onto the pavement. If the surface looks icy when you’re ready to get out of your vehicle, try parking somewhere else instead.

Hold onto the vehicle’s door for support and the seat back to stabilize yourself when getting out.  Wait until you’re safely standing to retrieve objects from your vehicle.

When walking

Walk slowly. Don’t walk with your hands in your pockets.  Keep your arms free to maintain your balance if you start to slip.

Take small steps and shuffle in icy areas.  Don’t carry heavy loads that may make you lose your balance when you’re walking on snow or ice.

Give walking your full attention and look ahead for hazards.  Don’t text or talk on your cell phone or be digging items out of your purse, backpack or pockets while you’re walking in slippery conditions.

Keep walkways clear of ice, snow, water and debris.  Spread sand or grit on your steps and walkways.

Buildings, parking lots

Take extra caution when you’re entering or exiting buildings. Use handrails for support as you’re going up or down steps or ramps.

Avoid north-facing entrances and exits if possible.  Walkways to these entrances can remain icy and slippery if they aren’t well-cleared. Remove snow and water from your shoes or boots when entering buildings.

Walk on designated walkways as much as you can.   You’ll probably need to walk along the grassy edge of a sidewalk that’s totally covered with ice. Stay away from curbs with ice on them.

Around a third of slip and fall injuries on ice happen in parking lots, according to Iowa State University and WLNS-Lansing, Michigan information.

If you start to fall

You can minimize your injuries in a fall if you roll with the fall, trying to twist and roll backwards and not fall forward.  Try to relax as much as you can when you start falling. Protect yourself first if you fall — drop whatever you’re carrying.

Be prepared to fall and fall with sequential contacts of your thigh, hip and shoulder. Avoid using outstretched arms to brace yourself. Bend your back and head forward so you don’t hit your head on the ground as you fall.

Even if cleared

Melting snow can develop a thin layer of ice overnight which can make the ground slick in the morning.  Even if sidewalks and parking lots have been cleared, there will be slippery patches of ice.

If the sidewalks and walkways aren’t cleared and you have to walk in the street, walk against traffic and as close to the curb as you can.  Wear bright colors or reflective clothing so you can be seen by oncoming vehicles.

All wet, dark patches on the pavement may be icy or slippery. Avoid walking there if possible. Find a path around snow and ice if you can.

If you’re walking for exercise, take a rain-check on days when it’s icy out and do indoor workouts instead.   In better weather you can use a walking stick for stability.

Falls can be year-round

While wintertime brings hazardous conditions that can induce falling, falls can occur year-round indoors and outdoors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that conditions that are risk factors for falling include lower body weakness, Vitamin D deficiency, difficulties with walking and balance and use of medications such as tranquilizers, sedatives or anti-depressants and some over-the-counter medications that affect balance and steadiness.

Other factors can include vision issues, foot pain or poor footwear and home hazards such as throw rugs, poor lighting, uneven steps and clutter.

The CDC recommends that people ask their doctor to evaluate their risk for falls and what can be done to prevent them.  Request that your doctor review your prescription and over-the-counter medications to see if any could make you dizzy or sleepy.  Ask about Vitamin D supplements.

Other CDC advice includes doing exercises for balance and strengthening your legs, having your eyes checked once a year and getting new eyeglasses if needed, getting rid of things you can trip over, putting grab bars inside and outside your tub/shower and beside the toilet,  putting railings on both sides of your stairs and adding more or brighter light bulbs for lots of light inside your home.