Rain, snow, and ice combined with the cold temperatures and poor visibility create treacherous conditions in winter with a high risk of injuries. Many winter-related injuries can take a longer time to heal, making it difficult for you to return to work or even carry out your everyday chores. The loss of income can make things even worse, especially during a cost of living crisis. So, don’t wait until something happens. Taking the appropriate preventive measures can save you a whole lot of pain.
It’s impossible to predict or prevent all winter injuries but you can take steps to avoid at least these five most common winter-related accidents and injuries.
Slip And Fall Injuries
It’s not surprising that slips and falls top the list of common winter injuries. Streets, pavements and even garden paths seem to be permanently wet, slushy and slippery at this time of the year.
Falling on slippery surfaces can result in injuries ranging from minor sprains and bumps to more serious back injuries, broken bones, head injuries or concussions. Even if you don’t fall, slipping on a wet surface can cause a sprained ankle, pulled muscle or broken wrist.
Tips for preventing slip and fall injuries in winter:
- Wear appropriate footwear designed for wet and icy surfaces.
- As much as possible, leave early to get to your destination and walk slowly. You’re more likely to be careless when you’re hurrying.
- Don’t stride when walking on ice. Keeping your knees bent and taking short, deliberate steps offers better traction.
- Don’t keep your hands in your pocket. Wearing gloves and leaving your hands free makes it easier to balance or grab onto something if you do slip.
- Be wary of black ice — thin sheets of transparent ice — that you may overlook completely or see as only a wet spot.
Hypothermia is another common winter injury. It occurs when your body temperature drops below 95°F. When exposed to bitterly cold temperatures for long periods of time, the body struggles to maintain its normal temperature of 98.6°F. This is because it loses heat faster than it can generate it.
Shivering is the earliest symptom of hypothermia. It is a sign that your body is trying to maintain its temperature. Advanced signs of hypothermia may include impaired thinking, rapid breathing, uncontrollable shivering, and loss of dexterity. This is a dangerous condition and can be fatal if you don’t take immediate steps to warm up.
Tips for preventing hypothermia in winter:
- When stepping outdoors, wear warm layered clothing so you can take a layer off if required.
- Keep as much of your skin covered as possible when outdoors. Wear a woollen cap, mittens or gloves, a woollen scarf, and thick warm socks to minimise the loss of body heat.
- If your work involves long periods of being in the cold, take regular breaks to get indoors so your body can warm up.
- Drinking plenty of warm fluids will help you stay hydrated and warm, both of which are equally important. Carry a flask with tea, coffee, or a hearty broth.
- At the first sign of shivering, get indoors to a warm place immediately. Don’t wait. This is especially important if your clothing is wet. Wet clothing accelerates the loss of body heat. When you’re indoors, remove all wet clothing, wrap yourself in a warm, dry blanket to heat your body quickly, and change into dry, warm clothes before going out again.
Injuries Due To Road Traffic Accidents
Road traffic accidents increase during winter every year and it’s for the same reasons that cause most other accidents during this time – slushy, snowy, slippery roads and low visibility. It can be extremely hard to regain control of your vehicle when it starts to skid and slide across a slippery road. This can result in a serious multi-vehicle accident and severe physical injuries from cuts, bruises, and lacerations to whiplash and back pain, fractures ribs, and chest injuries.
The best way to avoid road accidents in winter is to get your vehicle prepared before winter sets in.
Tips for preventing road traffic accidents in winter:
- Make an appointment for a complete inspection of your vehicle. The cold weather can stress some of the vital components of your vehicle. A complete inspection is a key to identifying and replacing or repairing at-risk parts so your vehicle performs efficiently under any weather conditions.
- Keep a winter safety kit in your vehicle – This should include safety items for you and your vehicle. Jump leads, a torch, high visibility safety vest, and a pair of warm gloves are important things to add to your vehicle safety kit. Even kitty litter can be a useful addition to your kit. It helps when you need extra traction.
- Always carry a fully-charged mobile phone, a flask with a warm beverage, snacks, and a dry set of clothes in your vehicle when driving anywhere. This is even more important when setting out on long drives.
- As much as possible, avoid driving after dusk.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
During winter, increased use of heaters, furnaces and fireplaces in closed spaces increases the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Inhaling carbon monoxide fumes causes various symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue during the early stages. As carbon monoxide builds up in the bloodstream, it can cause brain and heart problems.
Tips for preventing carbon monoxide poisoning in winter:
- Get your heating system inspected.
- Make sure all indoor heaters, gasoline generators, and other fuel-burning devices are adequately ventilated.
- Install a carbon monoxide alarm in your home. If you already have a carbon monoxide alarm installed, test it to make sure it is working properly.
- Avoid warming up your vehicle in a closed garage. The closed space can result in a fatal build-up of carbon monoxide. As a precautionary measure, install a carbon monoxide alarm in your garage too.
- If your alarm goes off or you experience symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning indoors, get outside immediately. Inhaling the fresh air will decrease the lethal effects of the gas. It’s best to also call an ambulance and get medical attention as early as possible.
Extended exposure of bare skin to very low temperatures can cause your skin, underlying tissue, and nerves to freeze. No matter how warmly you’re dressed, your extremities – cheeks, chin, the tip of your nose, and ears tend to remain exposed. Sometimes, your fingertips may remain exposed too. All of these areas are vulnerable to frostbite.
Early symptoms of frostbite include cold skin, numbness, pins and needles, and clumsiness along with the skin turning bluish or black. Ignoring the symptoms can cause permanent damage to the affected part and may require surgery.
Tips for preventing frostbite poisoning in winter:
- Avoid staying out in bitterly cold weather for long periods of time. If you do need to stay out, try to get indoors regularly for short breaks to give your body a chance to warm up.
- When spending extended time outdoors, wear warm gloves, a woollen scarf, warm socks, and a warm hat that covers your ears. Keeping your extremities warm and dry is the single best way to prevent frostbite.
- While outside in the cold, try and stay as active as possible – jog in place, rub your hands together and place your warm hands over your face and ears to transfer some of the warmth.
Winters may increase the risk of injuries but being prepared and taking adequate preventive steps can help you stay injury-free, no matter what the temperature or the weather conditions.