Home Owner and Business Owner Snow Safety Tips
Winter is a time of year when hazards, both natural and man-made, can place you at risk in a moment of forgetfulness. Even you, the infallible homeowner -- queen of the castle, king of the tool belt -- may be taking risks of which you're not even aware.
Let's start with the outside of your home. You may have heard the term "black ice" to describe that near-invisible sheen covering your front step and walkway. "Black ice" is a poor term to describe something you can't see until you slide and break a leg on it or even hit your head on a hard surface after taking a fall. Even worse, those spots place seniors at risk for very serious injury, including a broken hip.
Never assume that those spots aren't icy, even if you didn't have an ice storm overnight. Many apartment complexes, for example, fail to turn off the timers on their automatic sprinkler systems. So they're activated as usual, and when the temperature dips below 32 degrees, the water freezes on sidewalks, in parking garages and on steps. The same thing applies within residential neighborhoods. Your neighbors may be out of town, for example, or perhaps they've forgotten to turn off their sprinkler system. The patch of sidewalk outside your home is clean, but stray too far, and you could take a nasty fall. If you're unsure about whether or not the sidewalk is slippery, walk slowly and cautiously with your feet pointing outward. This position actually helps you brace yourself better, and it helps protect you to some degree in the event that you slip and fall.
The National Safety Council recommends taking the following precautions on potentially slippery surfaces:
· Avoid wearing high-heeled shoes or boots outside. Instead, wear flat shoes with slip resistant soles or rain/snow boots; both of these provide you with some degree of traction.
· As stated above, take short, flat steps. The heels and soles of your shoes keep contact with the ground as long as possible, provding you with maximum surface contact.
· Before heading indoors, shake your umbrella outdoors; and once inside, remove your shoes. Snow and ice often stick to the soles of shoes and will melt almost immediately as your shoes begin to warm up. The result is a slippery surface and the risk of a fall.
Proceed with caution when walking across your front yard. If you can avoid it altogether, steer clear of your grass. For starters, it may be frozen, which will cause you to slip and fall faster than you can say "ouch." Second, you could damage plants when your feet land on them and you "break" the leaves.
For those of us living in the Midwest, North Central or Northeast states, shoveling snow is an annual (and dreaded) event. Scooping up heavy piles of that snow is hard work for your back muscles. Impatience or overenthusiasm can cause you to pull a muscle or suffer from nagging backaches. Shoveling "pros" recommend that homeowners use curved shovels versus flat ones; they retain snow more effectively. And select a shovel that is of reasonable weight. If it's slightly smaller than the other ones in the hardware store, sure, it might take you longer to do the job. But if you're continually lifting a heavy shovel, you could hurt yourself. Make sure that as you're lifting your snow-filled shovel, you're bending your knees. Don't twist your back and toss the snow over your shoulder. That movement, when repeated continuously, will promote backaches.
If you haven't had your chimney inspected and thoroughly cleaned yet, it's time. Call a professional before that first fire. A professional chimney-cleaning service will perform a intensive inspection of your chimney and reduce the risk of gas leaks, system failures, even small explosions. And while he or she is on the job, make sure you have a chimney cap installed to keep out critters seeking refuge from the cold. The bigger issue with chimneys, of course, is the risk of carbon monoxide accumulation. Install a carbon monoxide detector, as well as a good smoke detector, and keep plenty of spare batteries on hand for both. Be sure to keep a metal screen in front of your fireplace while it's in use, and always make sure the fire has been thoroughly extinguished before you go to bed. Also, if your home has a furnace, make sure that you replace the furnace filter monthly.
Before you head indoors, take a walk around the outside of your home. Are icicles hanging from the edge of your roof in droves? While that's a common sight in the wintertime, it could also mean that your roof is poorly insulated. While this isn't a risk to the welfare of you and your family, it is a risk to your financial welfare. Icicles form when heat rises and causes the snow on your roof to melt and then freeze. While it's possible for a homeowner to tackle the job alone, if you have any doubts about how to go properly insulate your roof, call a professional. As with any home improvement, it's an up-front investment that will more than pay itself off later in terms of lower energy bills.
The winter months are the precisely the time when you look forward to relaxing and spending a little time in front of the fireplace, in the safety of your own homes. Staying alert will help you and your family stay safe and enjoy this season.
Heater Safety - Workers rarely agree on an ideal temperature for the office. What's too cold to some is blazing hot to others, and employees sometimes take it on themselves to make sure their work areas are comfortable by using space heaters. However, it is unwise to use space heaters in an office, especially near paper or other flammables.
To help better regulate office temperature, make sure the building's furnace is inspected annually and that all heating grates are clear of obstacles such as boxes or stacks of paper.
Cover The Extremities - The hands and feet are the body parts most susceptible to frostbite, so employees who work outdoors during winter should wear mittens (they retain body heat better than gloves) and layers of socks. They may also wish to use small hand-and-foot heating packs that many skiiers and outdoor sports enthusiasts use for skiing and ice fishing. These can be purchased at pharmacies and sporting goods stores.
Shoveling Safety - Workers who shovel should treat it as a workout. They should stretch beforehand and avoid consuming anything that increases the heart rate, especially caffeine and nicotine.
Walking Safety - Whether you work indoors or outdoors, you will have to do at least some walking outside. Keep an eye out for ice, and if it's dark outside when you leave work (something that is very common in the thick of winter), walk as a duck would walk, as if slightly squatting (to center your balance). This will help you avoid slipping and falling.
It happens every winter in this part of the country... snow falls, usually leaving piles of it to clear from your sidewalks and driveway. Why not think about the following before you grab your shovel after a major snowfall:
The good news is that 15 minutes of snow shoveling counts as moderate physical activity according to the 1996 Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health. We all should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity of some kind on most days of the week. Brisk walking or social dancing are other ways to fit in moderate physical activity during cold winter months.
The bad news is that researchers have reported an increase in the number of fatal heart attacks among snow shovelers after heavy snowfalls. This rise may be due to the sudden demand that shoveling places on an individual's heart. Snow shoveling may cause a quick increase in heart rate and blood pressure. One study determined that after only two minutes of shoveling, sedentary mens' heart rates rose to levels higher than those normally recommended during aerobic exercise.
Shoveling may be vigorous activity even for healthy college-aged students. A study performed by researchers at North Dakota State University determined that, based on heart rate, shoveling was a moderately intense activity for college-aged subjects most of the time but was vigorous activity during about one-third of their shoveling time of 14 minutes.
Shoveling can be made more difficult by the weather. Cold air makes it harder to work and breathe, which adds some extra strain on the body. There also is the risk for hypothermia, a decrease in body temperature, if one is not dressed correctly for the weather conditions.
Who should think twice about shoveling snow? Those most at risk for a heart attack include:
Anyone who has already had a heart attack.
Individuals with a history of heart disease.
Those with high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels.
Individuals leading a sedentary lifestyle.
Should you rush out and buy a snow blower?
Not necessarily. Not everyone who shovels snow is going to have a heart attack. Snow shoveling can be good exercise when performed correctly and with safety in mind.
Also consider back safety when shoveling snow. Even if you exercise regularly and are not at risk for heart disease, shoveling improperly could lead to a strained back. If you've been inactive for months and have certain risk factors, use some common sense before taking on the task of snow shoveling.
A Pile of Snow Shoveling Tips
If you are inactive and have a history of heart trouble, talk to your doctor before you take on the task of shoveling snow.
- Avoid caffeine or nicotine before beginning. These are stimulants, which may increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict. This places extra stress on the heart.
- Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is just as big an issue in cold winter months as it is in the summer.
- Dress in several layers so you can remove a layer as needed.
- Warm up your muscles before shoveling, by walking for a few minutes or marching in place. Stretch the muscles in your arms and legs, because warm muscles will work more efficiently and be less likely to be injured.
- Pick the right shovel for you. A smaller blade will require you to lift less snow, putting less strain on your body.
- Begin shoveling slowly to avoid placing a sudden demand on your heart. Pace yourself and take breaks as needed.
- Protect your back from injury by lifting correctly.
- Stand with your feet about hip width for balance and keep the shovel close to your body. Bend from the knees (not the back) and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow. Avoid twisting movements. If you need to move the snow to one side reposition your feet to face the direction the snow will be going.
Most importantly — listen to your body. Stop if you feel pain