Winter demands that we adjust our established patterns of behaviour in order to adapt to the challenges and injury risks of the colder months. This season brings increased threats to personal safety in the forms of ice, snow, and higher than normal levels of moisture covering almost every surface. And just as it is all year, most accidents tend to happen in and around the home.
Let’s look at a few key approaches to keeping you and your family members safe from harm on your property this winter…
Precautions for Outside the House
This is the best place to start. Not only are there significantly more hazardous threats to your safety outside the home, but conditions will emerge each winter that can pose dangers to your home itself – and by proxy everyone who lives inside of it.
Prepare to Deal with Icy Surfaces
Driveways, walkways and stairs slick with ice are the primary culprits of wintertime slip-and-fall injuries. Every year, emergency rooms absorb a seasonal influx of people with fresh shoulder dislocations, head and neck injuries, and even broken bones – all from having fallen on the ice.
When shovelling your driveway, push snow from the middle directly out to the sides as much as possible, and reduce unnecessary torsional twisting and wrenching of your midsection that can cause serious back injuries after throwing too many heavy shovels full of snow. Ensure that you warm-up and do some bends and twists beforehand to get limbered up. While you’re at it, throw in some rotator cuff exercises. Lift with your legs and keep your back straight. Remember, your muscles and tendons are generally tighter and more constricted during the colder months, increasing your chances of musculoskeletal strain. But we know that no matter how meticulously we may clear the snow from our driveways and walkways, ice can still build up.
For this reason, it is imperative that you keep a healthy supply of sand, road salt, or de-icing pellets in a covered bin by your front door. You may wish to even keep some in your car… If your driveway is icy when you get home, traversing the ice to get inside to retrieve these materials could be an unnecessary risk. It’s better to start de-icing before you even step out of your car, then slowly make your way to your door.
Any walkways along the sides of your house and/or behind it should also be regularly treated in the same fashion. Pay special attention to steps. Typically situated at the edges of your home, and under eaves that may be frozen or snow-covered, steps pose an accentuated risk in slipping and can mean serious secondary injuries (depending on how you fall). Steps with a smooth, hard surface such as wood or polished stone should be approached with the utmost of care.
While most people tend to recognize these wintertime threats outside of the home, unfortunately, de-icing driveways, stairs and walkways are probably not enough.
Eliminate Wintertime Outdoor Electrical Hazards
Snow and ice can conduct electricity just as easily as water. During the warmer months, falling rain can’t get into covered outdoor outlets, but as the snow piles up around them and begins to melt, this can create electrical hazards.
Keep a checklist of all of your outdoor outlets. Each snowfall, make your way around your house and clear any snow that has piled up around these outlets with a broom and/or shovel. Additionally, disconnect any extension cables or wiring to outdoor lighting – particularly landscaping and garden lights that are close to the ground. Disconnect any window air conditioning units and put them in storage. If your home has a larger AC unit outside, disconnect it and cover it up until the Spring.
Keep External Ventilation Ports Clear
Similar to the need to keep outdoor electrical outlets clear of snow, ensuring that exhaust ports from clothes dryers and electrical heating sources are also vitally important to the security and proper functioning of your home. If these ports get covered over by an accumulation of snow, it could either force these units to shut down due to built-in safety protocols, or it could burn them out once they get overheated.
Those who have older units in their home should know that these risks can be as serious as electrical fires or carbon monoxide poisoning of your home’s internal environment, making this an issue that is not to be taken lightly.
Knock Down Icicles
Even if your eaves troughs are clear and unobstructed, long and jagged icicles can still form around the edges of the roof of your home. While they undeniably look pretty, the weight that they accumulate can rip down your eaves. More importantly, they can break off and fall without warning, seriously hurting anyone unfortunate enough to be standing underneath.
Keep a hockey stick or other improvised reaching tool that is long enough to reach these silent killers and knock them down before they can injure anyone below. Take any pretty ‘winter wonderland’ pictures of your property beforehand.
Protecting the Indoors From Winter Hazards
Now that you’ve taken care of the outside of your home, let’s look at a few ways that we can safeguard the inside of our home from the effects of the winter months…
Keep the Elements Out
Maintaining a well-organized boot room/mudroom can help keep moisture where it belongs, preventing hard surfaces inside the home from becoming slip hazards. If you don’t have such a repurposable space in your home, enact a set of wintertime rules and get everyone in your household on the same page.
Wooden staircases can get just as slippery indoors as out. Whereas we expect outdoor surfaces to be slippery in the winter, we often forget how easy it is for water to get inside during the winter. This can lead to unexpected and unseasonal slip-and-fall injuries inside the house.
By keeping boots and coats and shovels at the front door, you minimize the risk of these indoor surfaces becoming slippery.
Have a Flood-Plan
Unfortunately, even if you do your utmost to clear snow and ice from flat roofs, electrical outlets, and venting ports, water can still get inside your home. The colder temperatures can wreak havoc on your home’s foundation, leading to cracks and fissures in the cement over time. Basement floods can be obnoxious and expensive. Aside from the risk of high-end electronics, serious flooding could short out your home’s electrical wiring.
The best prevention is to store valuables up on shelves and to disconnect or move any outlets
that are too close to the floor. If you do find yourself flooded, ensure that everyone in your house knows the plan and that there is a clear division of responsibilities. Know where to meet. Have a list of items that you will need and want to take with you if your family must retreat to the home of a neighbour or family member. Above all else, ensure that no member of your family wades into a flooded area for any reason until it has been cleared by the proper authorities.
Other Helpful Tips
As an added precaution against the weighty build-up of ice and snow, homeowners should also make sure that any flat-roof surfaces of the home are kept clear so that they don’t begin to sag from the weight. Negligence on this could result in leaks or the need for an expensive roof replacement. As with other outdoor, wintertime maintenance duties, this probably requires getting up on a ladder and it can be perfectly safe if you follow the proper precautions.
Ensure that your ladder’s steps are free from ice and grit. Have a friend or family member hold and secure the ladder at its base while you climb. Everyone involved should have on appropriate winter footwear, ideally with anti-slip sole. No matter the task outdoors during these months, whether shovelling or deicing, it is critical to be ever-vigilant that you are able to maintain a safe and secure footing. See that less-steady seniors and children have the assistance they need when walking across icy surfaces outside your home. They can be particularly lacking in balance and sure-footing. Their days of healing quickly are also likely far behind them, making them a particularly vulnerable group for wintertime injuries in and around the home.
Supervise little ones while they’re playing outside on your snow-covered property. The rough and tumble spill that they may take on the grass during the warmer months will be considerably harder hitting in the winter, particularly on potentially hard, icy surfaces. Especially if they’re playing alone, be sure to keep a careful watch and let kids know where the physical boundaries are so that you can personally observe them and hear their voices, whether you are inside or out.
We wish you a safe and happy time both in and around your home this season, but should you or your family members suffer the types of injuries described above, therapies at our clinic are available to help you on the road to recovery.