After a mild start to the winter, this month’s winter storms and frigid temperatures across the country have brought with it an increase in visits to the emergency department with a variety of preventable injuries.
This week, Intermountain’s emergency departments and trauma teams have seen a surge in winter-related injuries – car accidents, people slipping on the ice, skiing and sledding related accidents, and injuries from snow shoveling.
“One of the most frequently seen causes for visits to the emergency room this time of year is from slipping on icy sidewalks,” said David Hasleton, MD, Intermountain Healthcare’s senior medical director of emergency medicine and trauma operations. “These slip-and-fall injuries can range from a small bruise or cut to a traumatic brain injury, so it is important that people take steps to reduce their danger.”
With winter not over yet and additional storms forecasted to bring more snow and cold temperatures, the Intermountain emergency and trauma teams have put together a list of six steps people can take to help avoid an unnecessary trip to the emergency room.
1. Shovel Walkways: Keep sidewalks, driveways and walkways free from snow and ice, and be sure to use sand or ice melt as well. Anyone and everyone is at risk of falling or slipping on icy and snowy walkways, but seniors are especially vulnerable. Injuries can include concussions, severe bruising, muscle sprains, broken bones and back injuries.
2. Safely Shovel: Every year in the United States, an average of 11,500 people are treated in the emergency department for snow shoveling-related injuries. The lifting, digging, and repetitive motions puts extra strain and stress on the body. Before shoveling, make sure to stretch and if it’s too strenuous, consider hiring someone else to remove your snow.
3. Check Footwear: Wear shoes or boots that have good traction – proper footwear is the key to safety when outside shoveling snow or walking.
4. Pay Attention: Slow down. Take your time and make shorter strides. And don’t rummage through a purse, text, or keep your hands in your pockets while walking – ice patches can be everywhere.
5. Drive Safely: Every year in the US, an average of 116,800 people are injured, and 1,300 people are killed from motor vehicle accidents due to winter weather conditions. Allow extra time for bad weather and/or traffic delays – rushing to your destination can place you in a dangerous and slippery situation.
Leave ample distance between you and the driver in front of you, as braking distances can be up to nine times greater on snowy and icy surfaces. If your car has four-wheel drive, use it and have your vehicle inspected to make sure the brakes are working properly. And always wear your seatbelt.
6. Wear safety equipment: Before reaching for the skis, snowboard, or sled, grab the proper protective equipment as well – helmet, goggles, gloves, snow pants, etc. Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital has been seeing serious sledding injuries, some of which have required specialized intensive care, at twice the rate of last winter.
But wearing a helmet could prevent some of these injuries, said Jessica Strong, community health manager at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital.
“Head, neck, and abdominal injuries are common for kids taking part in winter activities,” she said. “If it’s sledding or skiing or snowboarding, wearing a helmet is a vital part of keeping kids safe, and can help avoid serious injuries,” Strong noted.
Following these simple tips can help reduce the number of injuries during the winter months and save families a trip to the hospital.
However, if you are injured do not delay care. If you have a medical emergency, you should call 911, or go to the emergency department.