Chilling Safety Concerns
When extreme winter weather hits, both outdoor and indoor hazards exist. Outdoor factors include extremely low temperatures, wind chill and danger from icy roads and walkways. Infants and the elderly are at higher risk for serious health problems from cold temperatures.
It is best to stay indoors, but if you must go out, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you keep your trip short, dress very warmly and stay dry to avoid hypothermia and/or frostbite. Prolonged exposure to cold can use up your body’s stored energy, resulting in hypothermia, an abnormally low body temperature. Hypothermia affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move out of the dangerous conditions. Frostbite can permanently damage body tissue, and severe cases can lead to amputation. Cold weather also puts an extra strain on the heart, so if you have heart disease or high blood pressure, do not exert yourself in the cold.
Even indoors, temperatures can drop well below normal, making it difficult to stay warm. Extremely low temperatures and winter storms can cause power failures and indoor hazards. Be aware that using space heaters and fireplaces to stay warm increases the risk of household fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. The CDC advises installing a battery-operated carbon monoxide (CO) detector in your home and having fireplaces and furnaces inspected annually by a qualified service technician to ensure that dangerous gases are not leaking inside the home. Be sure that your fireplace, wood stove, or other combustion heater is properly vented to the outside. Never use a charcoal or gas grill indoors to keep warm—the fumes are deadly. If you need to use a space heater, do not operate it within three feet of items that could catch on fire, such as drapes and bedding, do not use an extension cord and never leave children unattended around a space heater. If you need to use candles because of a power failure, exercise caution and never leave lit candles unattended.
In case of a power failure, the CDC recommends having a survival kit on hand containing these items:
- Candles and/or flashlight
- Lighter or matches
- Non-perishable food items
- Layers of synthetic clothing
- Sleeping bags
- First-aid kit
Being prepared is the best defense for winter weather emergencies, as conditions can change quickly. Visit these websites for additional information:
National Safety Council: Surviving the Cold Weather
Wilderness Survival: Cold Weather Survival
Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety
Winter Weather: Hypothermia