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Stay Safe and Healthy in Winter

Categories: Environmental Hazards and Health Effects, National Center for Environmental Health, Severe Weather

Anna-in-snowsuit

From the far West to the Midwest and the Northeast to the deep South, many sections of the United States have seen severe or unexpected snow, ice, and bitter cold this winter. So we all need to stay aware of weather patterns and remain prepared for falling temperatures and precipitation.

Stay safe outdoors.

Life doesn’t always stop when winter storms hit. Some people must still be outdoors working or traveling, and some choose to be outside enjoying winter sports. Outdoor activities can expose you to several safety hazards, but you can take these steps to prepare for them:

  • Wear appropriate outdoor clothing: layers of light, warm clothing; mittens; hats; scarves; and waterproof boots.
  • Sprinkle cat litter or sand on icy patches.
  • Learn safety precautions to follow when outdoors.
    • Be aware of the wind chill factor.
    • Work slowly when doing outside chores.
    • Take a buddy and an emergency kit when you are participating in outdoor recreation.
    • Avoid traveling when the weather service has issued advisories.
    • If you must travel, inform a friend or relative of your proposed route and expected time of arrival.
    • Carry a cell phone.

Stay safe in your vehicle.

Snow covered street

  • Learn safety rules to follow in case you become stranded in your car.
    • Stay with your car unless safety is no more than 100 yards away, but continue to move arms and legs.
    • Stay visible by putting bright cloth on the antenna, turning on the inside overhead light (when engine is running), and raising the hood when snow stops falling.
    • Run the engine and heater only 10 minutes every hour.
    • Keep a downwind window open.
    • Make sure the tailpipe is not blocked.

Stay safe indoors.

CO monitor

Although many people prefer to remain indoors in the winter, staying inside is no guarantee of safety. Take these steps to keep your home safe and warm during the winter months.

  • Have a safe alternate heating source and alternate fuels available
  • Prevent carbon monoxide (CO) emergencies.
    • Keep grills and generators out of the house and garage. Position generators at least 20 feet from the house.
    • Learn symptoms of CO poisoning: headaches, nausea, and disorientation.
  • Stock food that needs no cooking or refrigeration and water stored in clean containers.
  • Keep an emergency kit up-to-date, including
    • battery-operated devices, such as a flashlight, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio, and lamps;
    • extra batteries;
    • first-aid kit and extra medicine;
    • baby items; and
    • cat litter or sand for icy walkways.

Check on those at risk.

Above all, be prepared to check on family and neighbors who are especially at risk from cold weather hazards: young children, older adults, and the chronically ill. If you have pets, bring them inside. If you cannot bring them inside, provide adequate, warm shelter and unfrozen water to drink.

Winter storms and cold temperatures can sometimes arrive quickly and without much warning, so stay prepared for the dangers to health and safety that may come with them.

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  • Page last updated: January 31, 2014
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