Spinal Column: Winter can be wonderful if you follow a few safety guidelines

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By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District

As a lifelong Michigander, I enjoy experiencing all four seasons. Soon it will officially be winter, and although many people don’t appreciate our coldest season, winter brings its own blessings.

A fresh snowfall creates a beautiful landscape. Resorts and the countryside offer numerous winter recreation opportunities, from skiing to snowmobiling to ice skating and more. Reading a book by the fire while the snow falls outside is a rare comfort.

But the same snow — and cold — that provides the backdrop for winter blessings can also create some unsafe conditions. That is why I offer here some basic guidelines to keep in mind to help ensure we have a safe and enjoyable winter.

Drive safely. Winter conditions can make driving hazardous. Snow, sleet and freezing rain all pose challenges to staying safe on the road. Make sure you slow down and take extra care. The first winter weather in particular can mean danger, as drivers have not yet transitioned from their summer driving practices to account for the slicker conditions of winter.

Be careful when shoveling snow. Shoveling snow can either be a great means of exercise or a source of misery. If you have been inactive for months and head out in the morning to clear that fresh foot of snow, picking up the snow shovel could prove dangerous — even fatal — as it puts an unusual strain on the heart.

Make sure to take it easy after that first snow fall. And bundle up to prevent further heart strain. If you use a snow blower, make sure it is in good working order and you use it correctly.

Treat frostbite immediately. Frostbite and hypothermia are caused by too much exposure to cold, wind or moisture. Before heading outside, make sure you:
•    Check the temperature. If it is very cold, wet or windy, limit your time outdoors;
•    Put on several layers of loose clothing;
•    Wear mittens instead of gloves, if necessary;
•    Cover your head and ears with a warm hat; and
•    Wear socks that keep your feet warm and dry.

Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. The winter months are the most common time carbon monoxide poisoning occurs. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that is difficult to detect. It is critically important to have CO detectors in your home and to make sure working batteries are installed in them. Replace the batteries each spring and fall, when you set your clocks forward and back. In addition, never heat your home with a gas range or oven, and never run a car or truck inside an attached garage.

These safety tips have been adapted from the National Safety Council’s (NSC) “Winter Safety Tips.” For more information, visit the NSC website.

By following these basic guidelines, you can have a safe and enjoyable winter. May you get outside and enjoy Pure Michigan this winter!

This column first appeared in the Spinal Column newsweekly. Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the Michigan Senate majority floor leader. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.