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January 21, 2015

County Health Department Warns of Winter Health Hazards

Oswego County can be a winter wonderland during the winter months, providing plenty of snow to enjoy outdoor recreation and sports. With it come the hazards of winter storms and biting cold that are not only uncomfortable and inconvenient, but can be life-threatening. Being out in the cold for too long can make you vulnerable to hypothermia and frostbite.

"Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition that causes the body's core body temperature to drop. The elderly and infants are at increased risk of hypothermia because they cannot easily regulate their body temperature," said Jiancheng Huang, Director of Public Health for Oswego County.

Warning signs of hypothermia in adults include shivering, confusion, memory loss, drowsiness, exhaustion and slurred speech. Infants who are suffering from hypothermia may appear to have very low energy and bright red, cold skin.

"Frostbite is another concern and often occurs with little warning," said Diane Oldenburg, senior public health educator for the Oswego County Health Department. "Numbness can occur so quickly that the individual is unaware of being frostbitten. Older persons and persons with diabetes are at greater risk due to poor circulation."

To prevent frostbite and hypothermia, it is important to dress in layers and have windproof clothing. Layers of loose-fitting clothing help to trap body heat. Don't ignore shivering- it is the first sign that your body is losing heat and should signal you to go indoors. Most of your body heat is lost from your head so don't forget to wear a hat that covers your ears, along with gloves or mittens. Be aware of the wind chill. As the speed of the wind increases, it can carry body heat away faster.

"If you will be spending time outdoors this winter, dress warmly, stay dry, and don't ignore warning signs of overexposure or strain when shoveling or doing other outdoor chores," warned Oldenburg.

Living with Central New York's Lake Effect snow, it's a safe bet that snow removal is part of your winter chores. Each year, many visit doctors or hospitals due to snow removal accidents and injuries.

The health department offers several important tips on removing snow safely:

  • Check with your doctor, especially if you have a medical condition or do not exercise regularly.

  • Dress appropriately. Light, layered, water-repellent clothing provides both ventilation and insulation.

  • Start early. Try to clear snow early and often. Start shoveling/snowblowing when a light covering of snow is on the ground to avoid dealing with packed, heavy snow.

  • Clear vision; be sure you can see what you are shoveling/snowblowing. Do not let a hat or scarf block your vision.

  • Snowblowers--

  • Snow blowers make clearing snow much easier than having to shovel it. But like any machine, they can bedangerous if operators don't take adequate safety precautions when using them.

  • Never stick your hands in the snowblower! If snow jams the snowblower, stop the engine and wait more than 5 seconds. Use a solid object to clear wet snow or debris from the chute. Beware of the recoil of the motor and blades after the machine has been turned off.

  • Proper supervision. Do not leave the snow blower unattended when it is running. Shut off the engine if you must walk away from the machine.

  • Safe fueling. Add fuel before starting the snow blower. Never add fuel when the engine is running or hot. Do not operate the machine in an enclosed area.

  • Avoid the engine. Stay away from the engine. It can become very hot and burn unprotected flesh.

  • Watch the snowblower cord. If you are operating an electric snow blower, be aware of where the power cord is at all times.

  • No tampering. Do not remove safety devices, shields, or guards on switches, and keep hands and feet away from moving parts.

  • Watch for motor recoil. Beware of the brief recoil of motor and blades that occurs after the machine has been turned off.

  • Keep children away. Never let children operate snowblowers. Keep children 15 years of age and younger away when snowblowers are in use.

  • Understand your machine. Read the instruction manual prior to using a snowblower. Be familiar with the specific safety hazards and unfamiliar features. Do not attempt to repair or maintain the snowblower without reading the instruction manual.

  • Shoveling -

  • Warm-up your muscles. Shoveling can be a vigorous activity. Before you begin this physical workout, warm-up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise.

  • Pace yourself. Snow shoveling and snow blowing are aerobic activities. Take frequent breaks and prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or other signs of a heart attack, stop the activity and seek emergency care.

  • Proper equipment. Use a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength. Do not use a shovel that is too heavy or too long for you. Space your hands on the tool grip to increase your leverage.

  • Proper lifting. Try to push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift, do it properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent, and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist. Scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel and walk to where you want to dump it. Holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine. Never remove deep snow all at once. Do it in pieces.

  • Safe technique. Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back.

    For more information, contact the Oswego County Health Department at 349-3547


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