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Staying Safe and Comfortable in the Cold

Winter months in our region can be dangerous, bringing storms that may cause extremely cold temperatures, power failures, loss of communication services and unplowed or icy roads and walking areas.  Being outside presents many dangers; however, there are also hazards inside the home that we may be exposed to when trying to stay warm during winter weather.  To keep yourself and your loved ones safe, you should know how to prepare your home and your car before a winter storm hits.  This article will provide tips to help employees keep themselves and their families safe and comfortable this winter.

Planning for Winter Storms

Weatherproofing your home can reduce the likelihood of damage during a storm, and help keep you safe and warm inside.  Insulate any water lines that run along exterior walls so your water supply will be less likely to freeze.  Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows, and insulate walls and attics.  Install storm or thermal-pane windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside.  Repair roof leaks and cut away tree branches that may fall on your home or other structures during a storm.

When a storm or extreme cold is expected, listen to weather forecasts regularly and check your emergency supplies, including food and water.  Check that you have enough medication if you take any regular prescription drugs.  Bring pets indoors or provide them with adequate shelter to keep them warm, and make sure they have access to unfrozen water.  Let hot and cold water trickle or drip from faucets overnight and keep the heat on and set no lower than 55 degrees.  If you plan to be away during a cold period, have someone check your house daily if possible, or drain and shut off the water system.

Get vehicles ready for storms – in addition to regular maintenance, have the radiator system serviced or check the antifreeze level yourself, adding antifreeze as needed.  Replace windshield wiper fluid with a wintertime mixture.  Make sure tires have adequate tread and tire pressure and fill low tires to the proper pressure recommended for your vehicle.  Keep the gas tank near full to help avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.  If you have to drive in a storm, keep an emergency kit stowed in your vehicle during the winter.  Make sure you have a mobile phone with a portable charger, extra items of clothing or blankets, a shovel, windshield scraper, flashlight with extra batteries, water and food, and a first aid kit.  Other items that you might be glad to have in an emergency include tow chains and rope, cat litter or sand to help tires get traction or road salt to melt ice, booster cables with a fully charged battery or jumper cables, hazard or other reflectors, emergency flag or flare, and maps.

Heating Your Homes Safely

If you use a fireplace or woodstove, have your chimney or flue inspected each year.  You can ask the local fire department to recommend an inspector.  If using a fireplace, wood stove, or kerosene heater, install a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near the area to be heated.  Test them monthly and replace batteries twice a year.  Keep a multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher nearby and make certain all fuel-burning equipment vents to the outside of the building.  Each winter, have your furnace system and vents checked by a qualified technician to ensure they are functioning properly.

If you or a loved one are over 65 years old, place an easy-to-read thermometer in an indoor location where it can be seen frequently.  Our ability to feel a change in temperature decreases with age.  Older adults are more susceptible to health problems caused by cold.  Check the temperature of your home often during the coldest winter months.  Check on older adults who live alone to ensure they are warm enough and have sufficient supplies when conditions make it difficult for them to leave their homes.

In case of pipes freezing, make sure you or someone in your home knows how to shut off the water in the event a pipe bursts.  Never thaw a pipe with an open flame or torch – use a hairdryer instead.  Always be careful of the potential for electric shock in and around standing water.

Frostbite and Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a drop in body temperature that happens when someone is cold over a prolonged period of time.  Symptoms include shivering, confusion, and loss of muscular control (e.g. difficulty walking).  Hypothermia can progress to a life-threatening condition where shivering stops or the person loses consciousness and can lead to cardiac arrest.  Frostbite is a more severe condition where both the skin and the underlying tissue and bone are frozen.  Skin appears waxy and white and is hard to the touch, with numbness or tingling.  Both hypothermia and frostbite can be serious and require immediate medical attention.  A person with either condition should be brought indoors right away and warmed gradually.

When you are outside in the cold, both hypothermia and frostbite are possible so you need to protect yourself.  Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight warm clothing and wear a hat, keeping exposed skin to a minimum.  Try to stay dry and out of the wind.  Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from extreme cold.  Mittens are better than gloves.  Your body’s extremities, such as ears, nose, fingers, and toes lose heat the fastest.

Preventing Falls in Icy Conditions

More falls happen in winter when the ground outside can be icy and inside it may be wet with slush from shoes.  Some tips to help you stay upright when walking on icy or slick surfaces:

    1. Wear boots or other slip-resistant footwear
    2. Use special care getting in and out of vehicles. Use the vehicle for support.
    3. Wipe your feet on a mat when entering a building and look for wet or slippery floors
    4. Try to avoid carrying items or walking with hands in pockets – keep hands free to catch yourself in the event of a fall
    5. Look out for black ice, which is a thin coat of highly transparent ice
    6. Tap your foot on potentially slick areas to see if they are slippery before walking on them
    7. Walk as flat-footed as possible on icy areas
    8. Avoid uneven and slanted surfaces when possible, and avoid steps or curbs with ice on them
    9. Move slowly
    10. At work, please report any untreated or dangerous surfaces to Facilities!

If you have any additional suggestions for winter safety, please send them to safetyideas@springbrookny.org.

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