Winter Safety Tips

What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about winter? Cold? Snow?

How about home heating safety? Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning? Fall prevention? A lot of us spend our winters shoveling snow, scraping ice and driving on slippery roads, so things like simple winter safety precautions slip our minds.

Below are some tips to ensure your winter is a safe one. Because whether you're shoveling out from another snowstorm, making snow angels or just snuggled inside a warm house with a cup of hot cocoa, anything is preferable to spending time in a hospital.

  • Have your fuel-burning appliances (including oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces, and wood burning stoves) inspected by a trained professional at the beginning of every heating season. Make certain that the flues and chimneys are connected, in good condition, and not blocked.

  • Make sure you have working carbon monoxide (CO) and smoke detectors throughout your home and replace the batteries annually.

  • Never use your stove or oven to heat your home. If you're using a space heater, place it on a hard, level, non-flammable surface. Do not put space heaters on rugs or carpets, near bedding or drapes, and keep children and pets away from them.

  • If you're going outside, wear layered lightweight clothing to stay warm. Gloves or mittens and a hat will prevent loss of body heat. Covering the mouth will protect your lungs. Wear waterproof, insulated boots to keep your feet warm and dry and to maintain footing in ice and snow.

  • If shoveling snow, take frequent breaks and stay hydrated. Avoid overexertion. Use rock salt to melt ice and/or sand to improve traction.

  • Keep an emergency supply kit in your home that includes a battery-powered radio with extra batteries, canned food and a manual can opener, flashlights and battery-powered lamps for power failures, and wood for fireplaces.

  • Make sure your car is in proper working condition and includes blankets, warm clothing, jumper cables and tools, bottled water, dried fruits and nuts, a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, flashlights and batteries, a shovel, and ice scraper. And remember to keep the car's gas tank full for emergency use and to keep the fuel line from freezing.

(Click here for Staying Safe & Warm This Winter Tips)

There is something about the winter months and curling up with a good book by the fireplace. But did you know that heating equipment is one of the leading causes of home fire deaths? With a few simple safety tips and precautions, you can prevent most heating fires from happening.

(Click here for Heating Safety Tips)

What are the signs and symptoms of the flu?

Seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. For most people, it is not a serious health threat. However, for the elderly or those who have a chronic health problem, influenza can result in serious complications, such as pneumonia. In rare cases, it can be fatal.

People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

Although these are similar to those caused by cold viruses, flu symptoms tend to be more severe and last longer. Abdominal cramps, vomiting or diarrhea symptoms are normally symptoms of stomach or intestinal flu, not influenza.

How does the flu spread?

Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. A person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose.

How long is a person with the flu contagious?

You may be able to pass the flu on to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.

How can you prevent the flu?

Flu vaccines, while not always effective in preventing the illness, do reduce the severity of the symptoms and protect against complications that could develop. The shots are strongly recommended for persons 65 years of age or older and those who suffer from such chronic health problems as heart disease, respiratory problems, renal disease, diabetes, anemia or any disease that weakens the body’s immune system. Be sure to check with your physician before getting the shot if you have any medical conditions.

Aside from getting vaccinated, you can also take everyday measures to prevent getting the flu by following these steps:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.

Is there treatment if you get sick with the flu?

Yes. If you get sick, there are drugs that can treat flu illness. They are called antiviral drugs and they can make your illness milder and help you feel better faster. They can also prevent serious flu-related complications, like pneumonia.

Bed rest, a mild pain reliever and lots of fluids are the best treatment. Antibiotics are not effective against flu viruses.

Because the influenza vaccine is only effective for one year and viruses vary from year to year, it is necessary to get a flu shot every year. The flu season usually begins in November and lasts until around the middle of April. If you plan to get a flu shot, do so early since it takes about two weeks to develop full immunity. However, even a shot in January may protect you against a late winter outbreak.

(Click here for Influenza Prevention Tips)

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. Too much carbon monoxide in the air you breathe can greatly diminish your ability to absorb oxygen, leading to serious -- and potentially fatal -- tissue damage. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a leading cause of unintentional death from poison.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include:

Dull headache, the most common early symptom

Weakness Dizziness
Nausea Vomiting
Chest Pain Confusion
Irritability Impaired judgment

Loss of consciousness

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be especially dangerous for people who are sleeping or intoxicated. The fumes may be fatal before anyone realizes there's a problem.

If you suspect you've been exposed to carbon monoxide, get into fresh air immediately and seek emergency medical care. If possible, open windows and doors on the way out of the house.

(Click here for Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips)

Smoke alarms are an important part of a home fire escape plan. When there is a fire, smoke spreads fast. Working smoke alarms give you early warning so you can get outside quickly.

(Click here for Smoke Alarm Safety Tips)

Plan Ahead! If a fire breaks out in your home, you may have only a few minutes to get out safely once the smoke alarm sounds. Everyone needs to know what to do and where to go if there is a fire.

(Click here for Escape Planning Safety Tips)

Driving in Snow and Ice

The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all, if you can avoid it. Don't go out until the snow plows and sanding trucks have had a chance to do their work, and allow yourself extra time to reach your destination.

If you must drive in snowy conditions, make sure your car is prepared, and that you know how to handle road conditions.

It's helpful to practice winter driving techniques in a snowy, open parking lot, so you're familiar with how your car handles. Consult your owner's manual for tips specific to your vehicle.

Driving safely on icy roads

  • Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
  • Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
  • Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
  • Keep your lights and windshield clean.
  • Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
  • Don't use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
  • Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
  • Don't pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you're likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
  • Don't assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

If your rear wheels skid...

  • Take your foot off the accelerator.
  • Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they're sliding right, steer right.
  • If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
  • If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
  • If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse - this is normal.

If your front wheels skid...

  • Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don't try to steer immediately.
  • As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in "drive" or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.

If you get stuck...

  • Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
  • Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
  • Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
  • Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
  • Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
  • Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner's manual first - it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you're in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.

(Click here for Safety Tips While Driving in Snow and Ice)