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Don’t Let Winter Hazards “GET YOU DOWN”

When the snow arrives in Southeast Alaska, we have the bonus of fluctuating temperatures which means lots of melting and re-freezing. That cycle causes plenty of slick surfaces which statistically equates to plenty of falls. Some of those falls result in broken bones, severe sprains, and head injuries and subsequently, visits to the emergency room.

Ice cleats (such as Yaktrax® or Spiky) placed over shoes/boots when it’s slick outside are a great tool and particularly helpful for elders who may be more susceptible to breaking bones if they fall. If you wear them, it is important to remember to take off the ice cleats when going inside to prevent sliding on (or damaging) hard indoor flooring.

Walking sticks or poles and canes are also great for walking on icy, rough or uneven terrain and for anyone with balance issues. Anti-skid cane tips are another good precautionary measure to consider. Walking poles offer another balance point to help stabilize your stride and prevent strain on other areas of the body such as the back and knees.

Another “trick” is learning to walk like a penguin. That’s right, a penguin. Point your feet slightly outward and take small, slow, shuffling steps. Widening your stance (spreading your feet apart from each other) while walking on ice also helps by increasing your center of gravity. Shift your center-of-gravity over your front facing foot instead of splitting it evenly between both feet enables you to walk across icy surfaces without slipping quite as much.

Taking the proper safety precautions while walking in the winter may make all the difference in a person’s well-being. Feeling more confident about our balance and safety means we’re more likely to get out and enjoy a walk.

Here is a list of things of some more things we can all do, no matter our age or fitness level, to help reduce the chances of becoming injured during the winter months:

  • Take smaller steps while walking outdoors in winter conditions. Be sure to bend slightly and walk flat-footed, with your weight directly over your feet as much as possible.
  • If you must carry something, try not to carry too much, or carry it in a backpack. It’s best to leave your hands and arms free to balance yourself.
  • Look ahead when you walk and extend your arms out to your sides to maintain balance. Wear gloves so you can keep your hands out of your pockets. It also helps to stop occasionally to break your momentum.
  • In cold temperatures, assume all wet, dark areas on the pavement are slippery. Dew or water vapor can freeze on cold surfaces, forming an extra-thin, nearly invisible layer of ice that can look like a wet spot on the pavement, sometimes referred to as “black ice.”
  • Walk only in designated walkways. Shortcuts over snow piles and other frozen areas can be hazardous. If sidewalks or driveways are icy or snow-covered, however, walk along their grassy edge for better traction.
  • On the stairs, always use hand railings and plant your feet firmly on each step.
  • Be extra careful when getting in and out of vehicles and be sure to use the vehicle for support.
  • Avoid footwear with smooth soles and high heels. A low-heeled shoe or boot with rubber tread is best.
  • Sprinkle dirt, gravel, kitty litter, wood chips, salt, or chop an ice trail to help from slipping on ice.
  • Consider wearing ice cleats on your winter boots/shoes.
  • Inside, have a mop or towels handy at the door to keep uncarpeted floors dry.
  • Watch for ice and snow hanging over entryways or parking spaces in front of buildings. It can become loose and fall.
  • Make sure outdoor areas around your home are well lit, and shovel all walkways.
  • And last but not least, don’t rush. Give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going.

The SEARHC Safety Shop* offers items such as pedestrian reflection items like reflective tape (which makes you visible by a vehicle up to 500 feet away), reflective zipper pulls, and a selection of ice traction devices for shoes like Yaktrax® and Spiky slip-on ice cleats to help walkers on slick surfaces. The Safety Shop also has bike helmets and car seats.

You may contact the SEARHC Safety Shop* at safetyshop@searhc.org or (907) 966-8736.

*SEARHC Safety Shop items are available for purchase at a deep discount to everyone living in or traveling to Sitka thanks to grants and manufacturer assistance. Certain items may be available at no cost or “pay-as-you-can.” All items are subject to availability.

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The SEARHC Crisis Help Line, 1.877.294.0074, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to residents of Southeast Alaska.