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Health Safety Precautions During A Winter Storm

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OSDH says everyone, especially the elderly, should avoid walking on ice. OSDH says everyone, especially the elderly, should avoid walking on ice.

UNDATED -- As a significant winter storm approaches the state, the Oklahoma State Department of Health has some safety and health precautions residents need to be aware of.

First off, don't skate, slide, or sled on frozen ponds, creeks, rivers, or lakes. Although the water appears to be frozen, it may not be solid enough to support the weight of a person.

In a news release, OSDH says when temperatures fall and power goes out, the possibility of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning rises as people try to stay warm.  

CO is a highly poisonous gas produced by the burning of fuel such as gasoline, natural gas, kerosene, charcoal or wood.  Unvented or faulty gas and kerosene appliances have the greatest potential to produce dangerous levels of CO in a home.

Smoldering or poorly vented fireplaces, slow-burning fuels such as charcoal and vehicle exhausts also are potential indoor hazards.

Take these precautions:

  • Look at the color of the flame. A hot blue flame produces less CO and more heat than a flickering yellow flame. If you see yellow flames in your furnace or stove burner, it should be adjusted so that the flame is blue.  
  • Don't use an unvented gas or kerosene heater in closed spaces, especially sleeping areas.  
  • Don't use gas appliances such as an oven, range or clothes dryer to heat your home.
  • Don't burn charcoal inside a house, garage, vehicle or tent for heating or cooking, even in a fireplace.
  • Look for CO exposure symptoms including headache, dizziness, weakness, sleepiness, nausea and vomiting that can progress to disorientation, coma, convulsions and death.
  • If you suspect CO poisoning, open doors and windows, turn off gas appliances, and go outside for fresh air. Call 9-1-1 emergency medical services in severe cases.
  • To prevent residential fires, make sure that heaters, stoves, and fireplaces are at least three feet from anything that burns. Use screens in front of fireplaces, and do not leave children alone with space heaters. Never leave candles burning when you are not at home or while you are sleeping. If a heater uses fuel like propane or kerosene, use only that kind of fuel and add more fuel only when the heater is cool. Store all fuels outside in closed metal containers.

The news release goes on to say, respiratory disease can be a significant problem when people stay together in crowded conditions. 

To help prevent respiratory disease, be sure to cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and use good personal hygiene and thorough hand-washing practices to further reduce risk of transmission.   

OSDH says everyone, especially the elderly, should avoid walking on ice.

A short trip to the mailbox or to retrieve the paper could result in a longer trip to the hospital if you slip and fall.

And finally, if you are outside, prolonged exposure to the cold can cause frostbite, hypothermia, or in extreme cases, death.

Infants and the elderly are most susceptible to extreme cold. 

Frostbite occurs when the skin becomes cold enough to actually freeze. A loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, or the nose are symptoms of frostbite. 

Hypothermia (low body temperature) can occur during longer periods of exposure when the body temperature drops below 95 F. A person will become disoriented, confused, and shiver uncontrollably, eventually leading to drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. In severe cases, death is possible. 

The following tips can help decrease the risk of cold exposure:  

  • Wear layered clothing outdoors for better protection from the cold. Wear a cap to prevent rapid heat loss from an uncovered head. Cover exposed skin to prevent frostbite.
  • While indoors, try to keep at least one room heated to 70 F. This is especially important for the elderly and small children to prevent hypothermia.
  • Sleep warm with extra blankets, a warm cap, socks and layered clothing.
  • Avoid fatigue and exhaustion during cold weather. Overexertion, such as shoveling snow or pushing a car, can strain your heart.
  • Check daily on elderly friends, relatives and neighbors who live alone.
  • Carry extra clothing, blankets and high energy snacks, such as cereal or candy bars in your car for protection if car stalls. Keep the gas tank near full to prevent icing. Don't travel alone.

The elderly and very young should stay indoors as much as possible.

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