Slips, Trips, and Falls, Oh My! Walking Safely This Winter

Being from the Midwest, you’re probably an expert on all things winter safety. But if you think you know everything about how to walk safely in the winter, think again. Winter brings icy sidewalks, snowy driveways, and frosty farm equipment. 

While beautiful to look at, these slippery surfaces can also lead to dangerous slips, trips, and falls for those working outdoors or just people walking to and from their cars. Winter weather causes over 1 million injuries annually nationwide. Icy conditions greatly increase risks of fractures and head injuries that require hospital visits.

At United Farmers Coop, safety is one of our top priorities, and we want to help you avoid injuries this winter season. Read on for our top tips for staying steady on your feet when working and walking in wintry conditions.

The Shoes You Choose To Wear Matter

Obviously, you’re not wearing sandals or open-toed shoes. But the type of closed-toed shoes you choose to wear matters. The importance of proper footwear can’t be overstated when it comes to slip and fall prevention. 

It’s ideal to wear boots with deep tread soles specifically designed for winter weather. Look for lug soles and Vibram outsoles on boots rated for ice, snow, and freezing temperatures. These will grip slippery ground more effectively than smooth soles. Always check the treads and replace boots once the treads become worn down. 

We understand that boots aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, so if you choose to wear other shoes in the winter, depending if you’ve had them a good while or not, it’s a good idea to check the bottoms to see if the tread is worn. A smooth bottom on a shoe and smooth ice is a bad combination.

We also recommend wearing crampons or ice cleats over your shoes when walking on extremely icy surfaces. These metal attachments pierce and grip the ice, and keep you steady. There’s a good reason why mail carriers have to wear ice cleats in the winter when delivering mail.

Talk The Talk, Walk Like A Penguin

If you could be any animal, what would you be? No matter what it is, it’s good to be a penguin in the winter – well, to walk like one that is. 

When walking on slippery surfaces, take slow, deliberate steps about half your normal stride length. Short steps prevent your foot from sliding out from under you before you can catch yourself. Bend slightly and walk flat-footed, keeping your center of gravity over your feet as much as possible.

Also try the “penguin shuffle” technique: Take small, shuffling steps, keeping your hands out of your pockets and arms out slightly for balance. Shift your weight slowly from one foot to the other, avoiding sudden movements. Be sure to watch the ground for where you step, but also glance out ahead from time to time to map out the best route mentally – choose the path with the least amount of ice. Snow is easier to walk on than pure ice. 

We understand that you can’t always have your hands free, especially when carrying bags or your child, so if you can’t be hands free, focus on your feet and keep your eyes on the ground to help you navigate the best path to your destination.

Clear Away Ice and Snow

One of the best things you can do to help prevent slips and falls on ice is to, in turn, do what you can to prevent the ground from getting slippery in the first place. For example, at our facilities, our maintenance crews work diligently to sand, salt, shovel, and clear snow from parking lots, sidewalks, stairs, ramps, and loading docks. We check these areas frequently and retreat them whenever necessary. This is not only common sense, but can save so many from getting injured. 

Make it a regular habit to shovel, salt, and clear snow and ice from outdoor high-traffic areas for both driving and walking. Pay special close attention to locations that collect drainage or runoff, as they re-freeze quickly. (Think below eaves and gutters.) Don’t forget to re-treat the area as well if snow and ice continue to accumulate. 

You can’t depend entirely on sand and salt to save you, so be vigilant in watching out for tripping hazards like uneven pavement, missing bricks, driveway cracks, and debris hidden under snow piles. (This is where the penguin shuffle comes in handy.)

Should I Use Salt or Sand?

A big debate when it comes to battling ice is using salt or sand. Most people default to salt, as you can buy it readily in many stores. They both improve traction and safety. But which one should you use and when?

Rock salt works by lowering the freezing point of water through a chemical reaction. This effectively melts ice and prevents snow or refrozen meltwater from bonding on contact. Regular table salt can work, too. However, large amounts of salt can damage plants, leak into soil, damage shoes and cars, damage concrete over time, and contaminate waterways through runoff. Over-salting also creates excessive brine, increasing chances of tracked-in slippery spots.

Sand offers traction by sprinkling grit onto slippery surfaces, providing texture for shoes and tires to grip. It won’t melt ice like salt, but sand is more environmentally safe and won’t harm plants. Apply sand very generously for best effectiveness. However, wind and activity displace sand grains easily. Frequent reapplication is needed.

For moderate ice or light dusting of snow under an inch, salt often works well for rapid clearing. But sand gives sustainable traction that requires less re-treatment when dealing with heavy snow accumulation or thick ice layers. Combining both is ideal. Sprinkle sand for grip then top with salt to speed up melting.

Use Caution When Exiting Vehicles

The classic saying, “Put one foot in front of the other,” doesn’t apply here. Entering and exiting any motor vehicle requires extra care in winter weather. Here’s a great, safe way to do it: 

  1. Face the vehicle door. 
  1. Firmly grip the frame, handle, or door with one hand to steady yourself.
  1. Plant your other hand securely on a stable part of the vehicle body.
  1. Step down first with one foot, testing for solid ground before shifting your weight.
  1. Slowly bring the second foot down.

Never jump straight out. This spells disaster, and leaves you open to hitting your head on your car if you slip and fall.

Establishing three secure points of contact before fully exiting gives you stability. This means keeping two hands and one foot firmly in place before the next foot exits, as described in the steps above. Take your time, and move deliberately.

Exiting tractors, combines, and other large machinery requires a few extra precautions. Carefully climb down the ladder rungs backwards, keeping three points of contact at all times between your hands and feet. Test each rung before shifting your weight. Have someone spot you from below when possible. Face the machine as you descend, and move slowly.

Use Hiking Poles for Added Winter Stability

“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far…..especially in the winter.” – Theodore Roosevelt. How true, right? Okay, okay. His true quote is only the words before the periods, but we believe the last 4 words definitely should have been added. 

Equipping yourself with a reliable hiking or trekking pole goes a long way in preventing slips and falls. They essentially serve as portable grip aids that double as winter walking supports. Simply flip down the spikes at the bottoms and grip the handles as you walk on icy sidewalks or surfaces prone to hidden slick patches.

When you walk on ice or snow, you only have two contact points supporting you from the ground. Using two hiking sticks doubles your contact points, improving your stability.

For best results using the poles:

  • Grip the handles lightly, arms bent at 90 degrees
  • Angle the poles diagonally behind you
  • Plant the spikes directly under your body with each step
  • Maintain an upright posture

While no substitute for proper footwear, hiking poles provide added security for walking in winter. 

The Bottom Line

Following these common sense winter weather safety recommendations will help us all stay steady on our feet in the months ahead. Slow down, plan each step mindfully, assist others, hold onto railings, and wear proper footgear. Prioritizing stability keeps slips and falls at bay.

Have a safe, healthy winter season and let’s work cooperatively to achieve our goals while protecting each other from harm. With some care and preparation, we can thrive this winter as we supply nutritious products to our communities.

And, we keep things well sanded and salted at each of our locations, but if you happen to need help walking in, just give us a call, and one of our employees would be happy to come escort you. Stay safe out there, and if there’s one thing you take away from this blog – remember to walk like a penguin!

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