Kansas Winter Safety

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Scott Hilmes
  • 22nd Medical Support Squadron commander
As I write this article, Wichita is preparing for another round of crazy Kansas winter weather. That means it's time to review safety and weather-related precautions learned over the course of an Air Force career. Let's take a moment to recollect that we can safely navigate icy roads by decreasing speed and leaving plenty of room to stop.

In addition, be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads that typically freeze first. If you get stuck, don't spin your wheels; use a shovel to clear snow from the tires and undercarriage. Pour sand, cat litter, or salt in the path of the wheels for traction.

Aside from driving precautions, let's look at some startling information about handling snow around your home. Did you know, that 15 minutes of snow shoveling counts as moderate physical activity according to the 1996 Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health. Unfortunately, researchers report an increase in fatal heart attacks among snow shovelers after heavy snowfalls. This fatality rise is due to the sudden demand that shoveling places on an individual's heart, causing a rapid increase in heart rate and blood pressure. One study found that after only two minutes of shoveling, the heart rate of a person with a sedentary lifestyle climbed to higher levels than those recommended during normal aerobic exercise.

Additionally, shoveling can be made even more difficult by the weather. Cold air makes it harder to work and breathe, which puts extra strain on the body. There is also the risk of hypothermia if you are not dressed correctly for the weather. But remember, not everyone who shovels snow is going to have a heart attack and snow shoveling can be good exercise when performed correctly with safety in mind. Consider using proper body mechanics when shoveling snow even if you exercise regularly and are not at risk for heart disease. Shoveling improperly can lead to a strained back, so practice good Operational Risk Management and common sense before taking on the task of shoveling snow.

For obvious reasons, my snow removal option of choice is a gas-powered snow blower. While snow blowers may prevent strained backs, they usually won't cause a sudden increase in heart rate or blood pressure. There are of course risks involved with these types of equipment. Each year, hundreds of people suffer maiming or amputations of their fingers or hands due to the improper operation of snow blowers. The American Society for Surgery of the Hand states that the two most common snow blowing afflictions are hand injuries from operator's attempts to clean a clogged exit chute and mangled or detached fingers from cleaning a clogged auger.

That brings me to my final thoughts on managing another Kansas winter. Whatever you do, whether at work or play, do it with safety in mind. Similar to the workplace, it's not the action that's unsafe, but unsafe people deviating from well-documented safety guidance that causes injuries.