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COLUMN: Stay safe and healthy this winter

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By Diana Leathers

 Even though the weather is turning colder, many of us may not be ready for winter to arrive. If you take steps to be prepared for the hazards of winter, you will be more likely to stay safe and healthy when temperatures begin to fall.

Many people prefer to stay indoors so it is important to make sure home safety measures are in place. One of the leading causes of home fire deaths is the result of heating equipment not being used correctly.

• Check your heating systems to make sure they are clean, working properly and ventilated to the outside. Make sure to inspect and clean fireplaces and chimneys. Install smoke detectors and test them at least two times a year. Be sure to keep children safe by making sure they do not get too close to heat sources such as fireplaces and space heaters.

• Winterize your home to extend the life of your fuel supply by insulating walls and attics, caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows, and installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic. Insulate pipes with insulation or newspapers and plastic and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing. Running water, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing.

• Be prepared for winter-related emergencies such as power outages. Keep food that does not need to be cooked or refrigerated on hand and stored separately for emergencies. Have enough bottled water on hand for every member of the family, including pets, to last at least three days. Make an emergency kit that contains items such as a flashlight, extra batteries, first aid kit, and a manual can opener. Also, keep cat litter or sand to use on icy sidewalks.

• Prevent carbon monoxide emergencies by installing carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas to provide early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide. Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning device inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate the unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors. If you or someone else in the house is having symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning such as headaches, nausea, and disorientation leave the house immediately and dial 911.

Some people spend time outdoors in the winter working, traveling, or playing.  Outdoor activities come with safety hazards that you need to prepare for as well.

• When outdoors always wear the right clothing. Wear layers of light, warm clothing with mittens, hats, scarves, and waterproof boots.

• Take safety precautions to avoid accidents. Sprinkle cat litter or sand on icy patches. Listen to weather updates and be aware of the wind chill factor. Work slowly when doing outside chores. Use the buddy system when participating in outdoor sports and have an emergency kit on hand. Try to avoid travelling when the weather service issues advisories. If you must travel, tell a family member or a friend where you are going and call them when you arrive safely. Try to carry a cell phone for emergencies.

• Do not forget to winterize your car as well. Keep a full tank of gas so ice will not form in the tank and fuel lines. Have the radiator serviced and check the anti-freeze level. Tires should have good tread such as all-weather tires.  Keep an emergency kit in your car in case you are stranded. The kit should include a blanket, food and water, flares, a flashlight with extra batteries, cat litter for traction and a first aid kit.

Above all, be prepared to check on family and neighbors who are especially at risk from cold weather hazards: young children, older adults, and the chronically ill. If you have pets, bring them inside. If you cannot bring them inside, provide adequate, warm shelter and unfrozen water to drink.

While winter weather is different across the country, nearly all of us are likely to face some type of severe winter weather at some point in our life.  That is why it is important to be prepared for winter weather before it arrives.

For more information about winter weather safety call the LaRue County Health Department at 270-358-3844 or visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov or www.ready.gov.