by Kimberly Blaker
Freelance Lifestyle Writer
Mom-to-Mom, January 2016 (among others)
Scroll below clips to read the article in full.
Winter Family Safety: Weathering the Cold, Snow, and Ice
Every year in the United States, approximately 20,820 children and teens are treated for injuries related to sledding, according to a U.S. Emergency room analysis. A chilling 9% of these suffer traumatic brain injuries. But these aren’t the only dangers of winter. Travel, snow removal, heating, even walking pose risks to children and adults alike. Whether you’re traveling to a cold weather climate or reside in one, review this winter family safety guide with your family, and make a spare copy to keep in your car.
This fun but potentially dangerous activity can result in injuries from falls, collisions, or loss of control. Make sure children abide by these winter family safety rules.
- Dress in layers with waterproof outerwear.
- Make sure sledding equipment is in good condition.
- Don’t sled in extremely cold temperatures or wind chills.
- Never sled toward railroad tracks, roads, parking lots, or bodies of water.
- Stick to gradual hills with plenty of run off.
- Look for trees, signs, rocks, and other sledders before heading down.
- Never sled on icy surfaces or when visibility is poor.
- Never stand or go down headfirst. Keep clothing, arms, and legs within the sled.
- If you stop or fall, quickly move out of others’ way.
- Never sled behind or be pulled by a car or other vehicle.
- Children under twelve should be supervised, and ride along with children under five.
Frozen lakes and ponds are a big temptation and winter family safety risk, so make sure kids know these rules.
- Never skate or walk on ice less than 4” thick and that isn’t approved by an adult.
- Never go on ice alone.
- Follow the same direction of other skaters, and never cut directly in front of someone.
- Make sure ice skates are neither too tight nor too loose. Blades should be sharpened and clean.
- When playing hockey wear a face mask, helmet, and pads.
- If your child falls through thin ice, don’t attempt to pull your child out since you could fall through yourself. If ice is thick enough, have your child try crawling out by reaching their arms across the ice while kicking for momentum. Then go for help.
Snowmobiles, snowboarding, and skiing
Fractures, abdominal injuries, and even death are risks associated with these activities. Follow these winter family safety rules to keep your family safe.
- Before skiing or snowboarding, obtain basic instruction from a professional on how to prevent and break falls.
- Make sure boots and bindings fit properly and that all equipment is in good condition.
- Wear helmets, goggles, and waterproof outerwear.
- Never go on the slopes alone. Make sure they’re approved for the activity, and only go on those for which you have adequate experience.
- Don’t allow children under sixteen to drive snowmobiles.
BATTLING THE ELEMENTS
Winter family safety for walking in the cold
Make sure children have hats, mittens, scarves, waterproof boots, and bright or reflective (but not white) outerwear when they head outdoors. Also, inform them:
- If under ten, don’t cross streets alone in slippery conditions.
- Walk on sidewalks when possible. If snow and ice make sidewalks impassable, walk on the street close to the curb and against traffic.
- Don’t wear anything that hinders vision or hearing when walking on or crossing streets. And never cross roads until cars are at a complete stop.
Winter family safety for driving and travel
Snow covered and icy roads drastically increase the odds of an accident or becoming stranded. During winter months, automobiles also lead to thousands of carbon monoxide poisonings and more than 200 deaths each year as reported by the Centers for Disease Control. Here’s how to keep your family safe.
Before winter arrives, have your vehicle tuned up and the following items inspected: brakes, tire tread, battery, antifreeze, lights and signals, wiper blades, spare tire, heater, and defroster. Always keep the gas tank at least half full.
Be prepared for the unexpected. Keep extra hats, mittens, scarves, boots, chemical hand warmers, layers of clothing, and blankets in your vehicle to prevent frostbite and hypothermia. Also, have flares or reflectors, repair tools, flashlight, batteries, shovel, ice scraper, jumper cables, tow rope or chain, and a fire extinguisher. For distant travel or heading outside populated areas, keep drinking water, food, and medications on hand in case of an extended wait.
Take a cell phone for emergency use. Program the direct number to your local dispatch and that of the areas you frequently travel. 911 calls on cellular phones often go to a central dispatch and can pose lengthy waits.
Add bags of sand to your trunk for better handling. Use 75 to 150 pounds, depending on vehicle size.
Don’t lower your tire pressure. This can make handling difficult and cause additional wear on tires.
Pay attention to weather reports.
If your vehicle is parked in the open, make sure snow hasn’t built up in or around the exhaust to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Don’t drive in winter storms unless necessary. If you do, drive slowly. Also be sure to tell someone your travel plans including your route and estimated time of arrival.
Never sit in a parked car that’s running unless a window is open. Never leave your vehicle running in a garage.
Never slam on your breaks on ice or snow. Slow down early and pump the breaks unless you have an automatic brake system (ABS).
If you get stuck in the snow, try rocking your vehicle out. Shift between forward and reverse, making sure your wheels come to a complete stop before shifting. Never floor the gas on snow or ice.
If your car skids, take your foot off the gas and steer in the direction you’re skidding. Slowly steer in the direction you need to once your car begins to straighten out.
Put warning devices in front and back of your car if you become stranded. Run your vehicle only periodically for heat, and open a window while it’s running. Layer on clothing and blankets to keep warm. Leave your vehicle only if an occupied home or business is within sight.
Blizzards and other winter storms
Prepare in advance for power outages and snow-ins.
Keep a generator with plenty of fuel or another backup heating method.
Keep a supply of non-perishables that don’t require cooking as well as important medicines, drinking water, first aid, flashlights and batteries, firewood and matches, extra blankets, and other everyday necessities.
Dress in layers and cover with blankets if room temperature can’t be maintained. If room temperature drops below 65 degrees, babies and the elderly should stay somewhere else.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Snow blowers (or snow throwers) are the fourth leading cause of finger amputations associated with consumer products” resulting in 1,000 amputations and 5,300 emergency room visits annually.
- Never allow children to run snow blowers.
- Never clean clogged snow from the blower with your hand. Turn off the power, let it sit for a minute, then use a broom handle or similar object to loosen snow.
- Never add fuel to a snow blower while it’s hot.
- Shoveling and pushing snow blowers is strenuous work. If you have a history of heart trouble, don’t remove snow yourself without your doctor’s consent.
- Never leave a running snow blower unattended.
- Make sure animals and young children are out of the way before engaging the blower.
- When shoveling, push snow forward instead of lifting. If lifting is necessary, shovel small amounts and use your legs rather than your back to lift.
KEEP THE HOME FIRES BURNING
Cold and ice aren’t the only winter family safety risks. All heating elements pose dangers to your family too. To keep them safe:
- Don’t leave children or pets unsupervised around space heaters. Keep space heaters three feet from anything that could catch fire such as clothing or furniture.
- Have an annual furnace inspection and tune up.
- Clean and inspect your fireplace chimney and flues annually. Never burn treated wood, pine branches, or paper, and keep fires covered with a screen.
- Always ventilate your home by cracking a window when using kerosene heaters. Use only recommended fuel, not gasoline, which can cause an explosion.
- Don’t heat your home with an oven or range even for brief periods.
Carbon monoxide and smoke alarms
Protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning and fire by installing smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors on each floor and near bedrooms. Dizziness, headache, shortness of breath, and fatigue could be signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. If these symptoms arise without explanation, get fresh air, and seek medical help. If your CO alarm goes off, call 911, and head for fresh air.
AFTER THE COLD HAS SET IN
Frostbite and frostnip occur when limbs or skin is exposed to the cold for too long. Severe cases of frostbite can lead to amputation. According to the American Red Cross, signs include numbness or white, yellow, blue, flushed, or waxy appearing skin. Protect your children in these ways:
- Layer clothing including thermal underwear and waterproof outerwear.
- Don’t allow children to play outside for long periods. Have them occasionally warm up inside by removing outerwear, replacing damp clothing, and drinking hot cocoa.
- Pay attention to the wind chill factor.
- If possible, keep infants inside when temperatures or wind chill falls below 40 degrees.
If frostbite occurs, don’t rub it. Soak the area in warm water of no more than 105 degrees F. The water temperature shouldn’t be uncomfortable to a person without frostbite. Don’t use high heat sources such as a furnace or fireplace. This may cause damage to frozen tissue. When the skin warms and appears red, bandage it with loose sterile gauze. Separate toes and fingers with cotton. If blisters are apparent, don’t break them. Contact your doctor or visit an emergency room following first-aid measures.
According to the CDC, more than 700 deaths result annually from hypothermia.
This takes place when the body temperature cools and can set in even in poorly heated homes. To prevent hypothermia, dress for the weather, and avoid the cold for extended periods. Be prepared by following the previous recommendations for travel, recreation, and other exposure to the elements. If you become stranded, sleep when necessary, but briefly. Eat just before falling asleep, and avoid medications that cause drowsiness. Stretch and move about occasionally. But don’t do activities that could cause even a light sweat.
Signs of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, clumsiness, numbness, loss of memory or ability to use reason, a glassy stare, and loss of consciousness. To treat hypothermia, call for emergency help. Then warm the body gradually to prevent heart problems. If the victim’s clothing is damp, remove it. Wrap the victim in blankets or warm, dry clothing, and get them to a warm place. Use heating pads with a towel or blanket in between, hot water bottles, or chemical packs. Don’t place the victim in warm water since this could cause rapid warming. If no heat sources are available, remove the victim’s clothing and have two other unclothed people wrap in a blanket or sleeping bag with the victim. Don’t rub the victim, and keep their movement to a minimum. Warm beverages, excluding alcohol, can also help warm a conscious victim.
Finally, save this winter family safety guide. Review it annually to refresh your memory and keep your family safe the winter through.
Kimberly Blaker is a freelance women’s lifestyle writer.