Staying safe when winter weather strikes

Staying safe when winter weather strikes

In the coming winter months as the temperature starts to slip, so do people. Environmental hazards increase significantly during the winter months due to changes in sunlight availability, ice formation and even cumbersome banks of snow. It is important to keep these problems in mind while out and about.

It is not uncommon to see what otherwise would be a simple stumble result in significant fractures, lacerations, or even concussion. These risks and hazards are especially dangerous in our elderly population, as maladies such as head injuries and hip fractures can result in significant morbidity and can even be fatal.

Here are some helpful tips to help limit the risks around you and your loved ones this winter: 

Prepare for the unexpected. Allowing yourself even a small amount of additional time will limit the need to rush in conditions that are unfavorable and come along by surprise. If the forecast calls for possible ice, throw down some calcium chloride (commercially available ice melt) product to maintain a clear walkway. Keep extra clothing/blankets in your vehicles in order to limit cold exposure if stranded. 

Ask for help. If a medical condition places you at risk for balance difficulty, adding on the risks of hazardous conditions could multiply chances for fall. Don’t hesitate to ask a neighbor, family member or friend to help you to and from whatever path you may be on. 

Know your environment! As daylight hours decrease, small obstacles may be difficult to see. Ensure proper lighting of your walkways and steps in order to avoid harm. This is especially true when snow is on the ground, as it along with an obstacle can create a harmful combination. 

Proper footwear is key. In order to gain the right traction while walking on possibly slippery or icy ground, it is essential to avoid shoes with slick bottoms or poor texture. Take extra care to inspect your shoes, and avoid shoes with poor grip when there is the possibility of any slick conditions. 

Early removal of snow is very important. It is not uncommon for snow to accumulate on top of a previous snowfall. This combination can create a layer of ice that can’t be seen underneath the ground snow, which can be quite hazardous for anyone. 

Keep it charged. Make sure that batteries are in good maintenance. When in extreme conditions, batteries, including the one in your vehicle, can become less charged. Checking on the status of such items can help you avoid a precarious situation (i.e. walking in the snow or ice for help).

Following these simple strategies can limit risk and ensure safe passage while traveling. Common sense should always prevail. Avoid “taking the chance” and simply avoid a task if it’s not essential.

If you do encounter a fall and need medical attention, visit our orthopaedic walk-in clinic or call Marshall Orthopaedics at 304-691-1262 to schedule an appointment. If you need immediate help, call 911 or visit your nearest emergency room.


Andrew Gilliland, MD

Dr. Gilliland is an assistant professor of orthopaedics at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. He specializes in primary care sports medicine.