How to stay safe and prevent injuries during winter storms

News, Your Health

Walking in a Winter Wonderland? Follow These Tips to Stay Safe

With any given forecast showing signs of unfavorable winter weather, it's important to follow appropriate safety precautions. Injury prevention and emergency department experts from Atrium Health provide useful tips to make sure you avoid threatening injuries and know when and where to get care.

When you think of winter weather, you most likely think of snow glistening in the trees, children joyously frolicking through the streets, or curling up on the couch with some hot cocoa. But what you may not realize is that without taking the proper precautions, winter storms can pose a serious risk of injuring you or a loved one, ultimately resulting in a visit to the nearest urgent care center or emergency department.

We spoke to Janice Williams, director of Atrium Health’s Injury Prevention Program, to better understand what injuries the emergency department commonly sees during winter storms and to get advice on how to prevent these injuries and illnesses from happening in the first place.

"With severe winter weather, the emergency department sees injuries and illnesses that could have been avoided," says Williams. "It’s important to wear appropriate clothing to stay warm and take your time walking, when outdoors, to avoid falls."

6 common injuries and illnesses, and tips to keep you safe:

1. Slips and trips that cause strains and broken bones from ice and slippery surfaces are common this time of year.

TIP: In order to reduce your risk of a fall when walking outdoors, be sure to wear shoes with tread, carry less when walking, remind kids not to run and use the rails, when available, on outdoor stairs.

Additional tips include: Walking on the crunchy grass to gain some traction while avoiding the slippery sidewalks and parking lots, shuffling your feet when walking and walking sideways down an incline.

2. Heart attacks can be common when shoveling snow for people with heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

TIP: Take your time to shovel out with many breaks. If a heart attack does occur, family members can download an app to provide bystander CPR compressions to keep blood flowing until help can arrive.

3. While a lot of kids look forward to outdoor games like sledding, it can often lead to serious head injuries without taking the proper precautions.

TIP: Consider the whole route of the sled so that your child can avoid sliding into poles and trees. Additionally, be cautious of how steep the hill is. Always be sure that your child is able to safely come to a stop at the bottom of the hill.

4. Burns, carbon monoxide poisoning and fires are common as temperatures drop and families search for alternative heat sources for their homes or short cuts to warming up cars.

TIP: Be careful when using space heaters, gas powered or kerosene heaters. Space heaters should never be left unattended and children should not be able to reach the heater, in order to prevent burns. Gas powered heaters should only be used in well-ventilated areas and cars should not be run in a closed garage, in order to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

5. Frostbite and hypothermia are not extremely common in the South, but consider the risk to ensure warmth, if needed from long cold exposures.  

TIP: To prevent frostbite, in overzealous children make sure to use water-proof gloves, change gloves frequently and come inside often for warm breaks from play.

6. Driving a motor vehicle on snowy, slushy and icy roads is extremely dangerous. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, nearly 40% of all weather-related traffic accidents involved snow or ice.

TIP: Stay off the road unless it’s an absolute emergency. Prepare for inclement weather by getting enough food and supplies before the forecast predicts the weather will reach your area. Be patient, stay put, and if you have to leave your home remember to slow down. Accelerate and decelerate slowly, increase your following distance and wear your seatbelt. It is the safest way to keep you in the vehicle in the event of a crash and lessen the extent of an injury.

While these illnesses and injuries are all preventable, consider a visit to the nearest urgent care or emergency department in the event you need to seek medical treatment. If you need to be seen for a minor illness and don’t want to risk driving, a Virtual Visit is available 24/7.

Need care? Determine what Atrium Health care option is best for your injury or illness and where to go here. Can’t leave home? Visit for a face-to-face visit with a provider.