In the past couple of years, several people I know have had very bad falls that resulted in severe injuries. One fall happened to a life-long hiker/climber while walking across snow-covered grass, and resulted in a compound fracture that required surgery, hardware, physical therapy, and kept him out of work for over four months. It doesn’t take much. One false move and your life can take a serious turn with consequences that can last the rest of your life.


After I turned 60 last year, I took two falls in the snow over the winter. I was lucky enough not to get hurt but I knew I was taking foolish chances that a woman my age should not be taking. After the second fall, I had a long talk with myself, “You can’t be doing stupid stuff anymore; you’re going to break a hip.” I’ve been trying to be more careful about what I do ever since.

Dangerous falls can happen to anyone regardless of age, and account for as much as 30 percent of wintertime workers’ compensation claims. I want you to be careful too, so here are some winter safety tips that I hope you will consider.

First, if you don’t have to go out in bad weather, don’t. It’s just not worth screwing up your health and your wellbeing for possibly the rest of your life. If you can, wait until weather conditions improve.

If you have to go out in bad weather start by wearing the right shoes or boots; rubber or neoprene soles, no leather or plastic soles (which are not good at all on ice and snow). Avoid carrying a load, especially one you can’t see over. Keep your arms free for balancing instead, and always use the handrails when going up or down stairs.

Many falls happen as people are stepping out of vehicles onto what they think is wet pavement but is actually black ice. If you’re getting out of your car in freezing weather, and the pavement looks wet, swivel around in your seat so that you can run your foot over the pavement while sitting to test if it is slippery. Carry a jug of salt in the front seat of your car on those mornings so that if you find the pavement is slippery, you can use some salt to create a safe place to step onto. Emptied liquid laundry detergent jugs make great containers for winter salt and are easy to shake and recap.

If you have to walk on ice, take tiny-baby steps, bend slightly at the knees and hips to place your center of gravity directly over your feet, and be prepared to fall safely. Safe-falling is when you fall so that you land without using your arms by rolling onto your thigh, then hip, then shoulder. It happens by twisting slightly and collapsing rather than trying to use your arms to stop your fall. You are much less likely to break a bone if you use safe-falling. Do everything you can to avoid falling forward and hitting your head: many serious falls result in head injuries, and these injuries can last for months, years, or a lifetime.

Finally, when you get inside, be sure to remove snow and water from your shoes or boots. Wet footwear on tile floors is also another easy way to slip and fall. Be cautious of floors that are already wet or slushy; apply the same techniques as for walking on ice.

Wishing you all a safe and healthy 2016!

Debbie Anne is a public-health nurse with the Frederick County Health Department. She has been awarded a Governor’s Citation for her work with Marylanders living with HIV.