With its cold and often stormy weather, winter presents many safety challenges both indoors and out. Being prepared and following simple safety tips can help you, your family and your pets stay safe and warm this season.
Frostbite and Hypothermia
Brr, it’s cold outside, so bundle up before you head out to avoid hypothermia and frostbite. Dress warmly in layers of windproof clothing to prevent frostbite and hypothermia. Remember mittens or gloves, a scarf and a hat that covers your ears. Don’t forget to treat your feet: warm socks and waterproof boots will keep your feet dry. When you start to feel cold, and certainly if you’re shivering, go indoors.
With the cost of home heating so high, many of us are trying to conserve energy by reducing the heat. Accidental hypothermia can occur even indoors with a temperature of 60 to 65 degrees. Infants less than one year of age should never sleep in a cold room and should be dressed in warm layers to prevent loss of body heat.
Warning signs of hypothermia in adults include shivering, confusion, memory loss, drowsiness, exhaustion and slurred speech. Infants with hypothermia may appear to have very low energy and bright red, cold skin.
Frostbite is another cold weather concern and is especially dangerous because it often happens with little warning. Victims may feel no more than a ‘pins and needles’ sensation in the hands and feet. Numbness can occur so quickly that the victim, unaware of being frostbitten, may remain outdoors, increasing his or her chances of permanent damage.
Protect your Pet in Winter and Cold Weather
Don't leave dogs or cats outdoors when the temperature drops. Regardless of the season, short-haired, very young, or old dogs and all cats should never be left outside without supervision. Dogs and cats are safer indoors, except when taken out for exercise. During walks, short-haired dogs may feel more comfortable wearing a sweater.
No matter what the temperature, wind chill can threaten a pet's life. Pets are sensitive to severe cold, and they are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia when they are outdoors during extreme cold snaps. Exposed skin on noses, ears, and paw pads can quickly freeze and suffer permanent damage.
The salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet's feet. Wipe all paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates his/her mouth.
When there’s snow on the ground, homeowners and building owners are responsible for clearing sidewalks and a path to their door. While no one wants to be snowed in, shoveling isn't for everyone. And if you aren’t up to the task for health reasons, remember, a neighbor, a teenager or an enterprising team of adults will likely knock on your door soon, offering to do the job for a negotiable fee.
- Senior citizens, or those with a history of heart disease or chronic lung disease, should not shovel. When strained by sudden, unaccustomed exercise, a diseased heart may have trouble getting enough oxygen through partially blocked arteries.
- Asthma is aggravated by cold air and strenuous activity. People who suffer from asthma should never shovel snow, unless their doctor specifically approves it.
- Everyone should avoid shoveling in the dark, since patches of ice are less visible and there is a greater danger of slipping.
- If, while outside, you feel your hands and feet getting cold or numb, go inside immediately. This could be an indication of frostbite.
Anyone who shovels should know the warning signs of heart trouble, which include a heavy sensation in the chest or an acute chest pain which may travel down the left arm, accompanied by shortness of breath or a feeling of indigestion. If you experience these symptoms, stop shoveling at once and consult a physician.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) Can Poison or Kill
As temperatures drop and fuel expenses rise this winter, the Westchester County Department of Health cautions people to heat their homes only with the gas or oil-burning systems that are built into their homes. To avoid the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, don’t use portable wood stoves, fireplaces, space heaters, kerosene heaters or ovens to heat your home.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas that is produced by this fuel-burning heating equipment. As they burn, these fuels release carbon monoxide, an odorless, invisible and toxic gas that is difficult to detect. For safety’s sake, install at least one carbon monoxide detector near the bedrooms in your home. A second detector near your home's heat source is also a good idea, as this will provide you and your family with extra protection against carbon monoxide poisoning. You should also make sure you have smoke detectors that work.
During the winter months, many homeowners insulate and seal windows and doors to prevent drafts. This can be dangerous since proper ventilation is the key to preventing carbon monoxide poisoning. Prolonged use of a gas oven in a tightly sealed area can reduce your supply of oxygen and generate carbon monoxide levels that can be fatal.
The initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can easily be mistaken for flu symptoms. Nausea, vomiting, headache, confusion, sleepiness and dizziness are all early warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to unconsciousness, brain damage and even death. Individuals who suspect that they have been exposed to carbon monoxide should seek fresh air immediately and call a physician.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Resources
- What you need to know about CO poisoning (CDC)
- Frequently Asked Questions and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (CDC)
Chain Saw Safety
Each year, approximately 36,000 people are treated in hospital emergency departments for injuries from using chain saws. The potential risk of injury increases after hurricanes and other natural disasters, when chain saws are widely used to remove fallen or partially fallen trees and tree branches. It is always best to have a chain saw operator who is trained and experienced in safe chain saw use and cutting techniques to fell and remove limbs from trees. If you must use a chain saw yourself, be sure to take the following precautions to protect against injury:
- Operate, adjust, and maintain the chain saw according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Properly sharpen chain saw blades and properly lubricate the blade with bar and chain oil.
- Choose the proper size of chain saw to match the job.
- Wear the appropriate protective equipment which includes a hard hat, safety glasses, hearing protection,heavy work gloves, cut-resistant leg wear and boots which cover the ankle.
- Avoid contact with power lines.
- Always cut at waist level or below to maintain secure control over the chain saw.
- Bystanders or coworkers should remain at least 2 tree lengths (150 feet) away from anyone felling a tree and at least30 feet from anyone operating a chain saw to remove limbs or cut a fallen tree.
- If injury occurs, apply direct pressure over the site(s) of heavy bleeding; this act may save lives.
Home Heating Assistance for low Income Residents
Residents who are eligible can receive financial help to heat their homes this winter. To find out more about eligibility, call United Way's 2-1-1 or the Department of Social Services HEAP unit at 995-5619. You may also check your eligibility by going to www.myBenefits.ny.gov. Applications can be downloaded from the county's Web site at www.westchestergov.com/heap.
Heating Safety Tips (Generator safety and Portable Space Heaters)
Danger labels are required on all portable generators manufactured or imported on or after May 14, 2007.
If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air RIGHT AWAY. DO NOT DELAY. The carbon monoxide from generators can kill fast.
Follow these safety tips to protect against CO poisoning.
- NEVER use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds, or similar areas, even when using fans or opening doors and windows for ventilation. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off.
- Follow the instructions that come with your generator. Locate the unit outdoors and far from doors, windows, and vents that could allow CO to come indoors.
- Install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up in your home, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. CO alarms should be certified to the requirements of the latest safety standards (UL 2034, IAS 6-96, or CSA 6.19.01). Test batteries monthly.
To avoid CO poisoning when using generators:
- Never run generators indoors, including garages, basements, crawlspaces and sheds.
- Get to fresh air right away if you start to feel dizzy or weak.
Generators and Electrical Hazards
- Generators pose a risk of shock and electrocution, especially if they are operated in wet conditions. If you must use a generator when it is wet outside, protect the generator from moisture to help avoid the shock/electrocution hazard, but do so without operating the generator indoors or near openings to any building that can be occupied in order to help avoid the CO hazard. Operate the generator under an open, canopy-like structure on a dry surface where water cannot reach it or puddle or drain under it. Dry your hands, if wet, before touching the generator.
- Connect appliances to the generator using heavy-duty extension cords that are specifically designed for outdoor use. Make sure the wattage rating for each cord exceeds the total wattage of all appliances connected to it. Use extension cords that are long enough to allow the generator to be placed outdoors and far away from windows, doors and vents to the home or to other structures that could be occupied. Check that the entire length of each cord is free of cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs. Protect the cord from getting pinched or crushed if it passes through a window or doorway.
NEVER try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet, a practice known as “backfeeding.” This is extremely dangerous and presents an electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbors served by the same utility transformer. It also bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices.
Portable Space Heaters
- Make sure your heater has been tested for safety. Look on the bottom for a label such as ETL, UL or CSA.
- Space heaters must have plenty of space around them.
- Place space heaters at least three feet away from anything that can burn - including furniture, people, pets and curtains.
- There should always be an adult in the room when a space heater is on. Turn off space heaters before leaving a room or going to sleep.
- Supervise children and pets at all times when a portable space heater is in use.
- Never use space heaters to dry clothing or blankets.
Portable Space Heaters/Generator Resources