Staying safe during winter

Tips to prevent falls in ice and snow

In case anyone missed it, the heart of Wisconsin winter is upon us. It means limited sunlight and below-zero temperatures mixed with snow and ice. Whether or not deemed a polar vortex, our northern winter in the middle of a pandemic can be brutal.

Adding to the frigid temps and snowy, frozen landscape are the hazards of slipping and falling while venturing outdoors.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 million Americans are injured annually as the result of falling on ice and snow. About 17,000 people die each year as a result of their injuries. These statistics may not mean a lot unless a name and face are linked to them. Members of St. Mary Parish in Appleton painfully recall that their former pastor, Fr. Michael O’Rourke, died in February 2010 after an apparent fall on ice outside of his home.

Slippery, icy sidewalks — whether at home, at church or the grocery store — lead to many injuries each winter, especially for seniors. The rate of deaths from falls among people 65 and older in Wisconsin rose 19.1% from 2016 to 2019, compared to a 7.6% increase nationwide, according to the CDC.

Snow shoveling can also lead to injuries and fatalities among seniors. One study by researchers at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, determined that snow shoveling leads to approximately 100 deaths and 11,500 injuries each winter.

All of these gloomy statistics are not meant to encourage permanent hibernation until spring. They do, however, serve as reminders of the need for care and caution as we venture out of our homes and places of worship.

The Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS), which includes St. Vincent Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center in Green Bay and St. Clare Memorial Hospital in Oconto Falls, offers some suggestions for area residents who need to venture outdoors this winter.

To prevent slips and falls, HSHS suggests:

  • Be aware of wet, dark areas on the pavement. 
  • Walk slowly and take short strides. 
  • Keep your hands free and extend your arms while walking. 

HSHS also suggests keeping driveways and walkways clear of snow to help prevent falls this winter. 

“However, it is important to not overexert yourself while removing snow,” the Catholic hospital system warns. Here are a few things to remember:

  • Check with your doctor to make sure that it is all right for you to shovel or blow snow.
  • If you have a medical condition or are not used to strenuous exercise, it may be safer to have someone else clear the snow.
  • If you are shoveling snow or using a snow blower and experience chest pain, shortness of breath or other sudden or severe symptoms, stop immediately and call 9-1-1.

Here is an opportunity for parish youth or young adults to incorporate a work of charity into their Lenten penitential observance this year. Why not organize times to shovel the driveways and sidewalks of elderly parishioners when snow is in the forecast?

As our Lenten journey begins, don’t let your road to Calvary be a hazardous journey. Stay safe and avoid weather-related injuries.