It only takes a split second.
A patch of black ice or snow lies in wait to trip you up. You’re not paying attention to where you are walking, or you’re moving too quickly. Suddenly, you’re falling. And if it’s a bad fall, it can cause bruises, sprains, breaks and even traumatic brain injury. Falls are also costly, both in terms of money and loss of work time.
With a little extra planning, you can prevent major falls, says Kelly Albamonti, principal safety engineer for Corporate Environmental Health and Safety at Westinghouse.
“Most people are under-prepared for winter,” she says. “Everyone knows about using a snow shovel or snow blower when we get snow, but most people are so busy they aren’t paying attention to day-to-day weather and getting ready for it.”
Knowing and preparing for snow and ice can make a big difference in preventing falls.
“Take the time to ask yourself, ‘Is there the potential to fall?’ and then plan your life accordingly,” Albamonti says.
Make a Plan
Planning life accordingly means taking extra time to pack up what you need for work so you aren’t juggling bags, a lunch, a phone, a cup of coffee and keys while you are hurrying across ice, Albamonti says.
It may mean leaving a few minutes early so you have time to safely drive and walk to work.
It also means wearing appropriate shoes.
“You may have to adapt your shoe style for the weather. Let’s face it, heels may look good, but they just don’t cut it in the snow and ice,” she says.
What kind of footwear is best for winter? Look for shoes or boots that are snug and sturdy with plenty of grip and traction for those icy conditions—what Albamonti refers to as “gription.”
“They should have traction and tread so you can walk, push snow away and keep your feet warm and dry,” she says.
Consider carrying a small bag of ice melt with you, too—it’s a simple trick that even Albamonti herself is adopting this winter.
“That way you can just toss some out in front of you when you are walking across a patch of ice,” she says.
You can also avoid surprise patches of ice and potential falls by walking on cleared and designated paths.
Getting out of your car can also be a surprisingly perilous activity. The area in between parked cars is often shaded from the sun and more likely to freeze with patches of ice. And while many people are cautious while walking in snow and ice, they often don’t have both feet securely on the ground when they are getting out of their cars.
“They are grabbing everything they want to take and focused on getting to the door, so they aren’t thinking about putting both feet on the ground and being steady before they get out,” she says.
“You can’t practice safe walking without two feet on the ground.”
The key is to be aware of your surroundings at all times, even when doing something as routine as getting out of your car.
Also, keep an eye on the weather throughout the day. When the temperatures drop drastically or there is a warming then cooling of temperatures, that means there’s a freeze-thaw pattern, which can present more unexpected icy conditions.