Winter means more slips and falls so it’s important to slow down and use caution.

Slow down, get good traction, plan for extra time – it turns out that safe winter walking is a lot like safe winter driving. The onset of cold weather brings with it an increased chance of accidents and it takes us a while to get used to it.

The scope of the risk may surprise you. In its first report on ice- and snow-related injuries, the Maine Department of Labor reported 1,035 lost-time injury claims due to slips and falls on snow and ice from January 2012 through June 2013. That is 5 percent of all lost-time accidents and 27 percent of slips, trips and falls during the period – and most of those 18 months were non-winter months.

The report says, “There were six times as many injuries from snow- and ice-related slips and falls as there were involving falls from ladders or falls from buildings and other structures and … four times as many ice/snow injuries as there were from falls off vehicles or trailers.”

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Another statistic from the report provides more context: “Since 2011, these accidents have led to more than 25,000 days of lost time each year in the Maine workforce, with medical costs topping more than $1.5 million each year and total costs to Maine workers, employers and insurance providers exceeding $2.3 million annually.”

Fortify your shoes

Most ice- and snow-related mishaps, around 80 percent, happen in parking lots and on sidewalks. Entryways are another dangerous area. It’s an employer’s responsibility to keep those areas safe, of course. Workers can help by not wearing shoes that are more likely to slip on ice, such as those with smooth soles and high heels. Workers can also help keep areas safe if given the proper tools, such as mops and salt located near doors.

For those who spend their day outside and encounter slippery conditions all the time, there are many kinds of nonskid shoes and overshoes available. Detachable cleats and chains are another option – perhaps even a necessity for some.

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The selection is nearly endless. There are also many styles available in nonmetal materials that prevent sparks and don’t conduct electricity.

Walk like a penguin

Humans weren’t designed to walk on slippery surfaces, but penguins do it all the time, so we can learn a lot from them. Call it a shuffle or a waddle, the main idea is to keep both feet on the ground as much as possible while keeping your center of gravity over your feet.

Be especially careful while getting in and out of your vehicle. Your body is in an odd position, so use the vehicle for support. While walking on slippery surfaces, spread your feet a bit so you have a wider base and point your feet outward. Bend over a little and walk flat-footed with slow, short steps. Extending your arms a little helps you keep your balance.

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Sure, it’s cold and you may want to put your hands in your pockets, but that changes your center of gravity. It also makes it impossible for you to use your hands and arms for balance or to break your fall. Keeping your hands free will help you avoid landing awkwardly if you do fall.

There are other common sense tips that we sometimes forget in our haste: use handrails on steps, clean snow and water from your shoes when entering buildings, don’t carry heavy items on snow or ice and avoid quick actions.

In short, whether you’re walking or driving, slow down and take your time.

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