Winter Safety: Truth and Myth

Winter offers plenty of opportunities for fun, but it can also be a dangerous time of year. You can reduce your winter risk by understanding some common myths—and the actual truth behind them. 

The cold season brings opportunities for skiing and skating, as well as an excuse to curl up by the hearth. But this time of year also raises the risk of injuries caused by wintry weather conditions.

That doesn’t mean you can’t stay healthy and safe. “Ninety per cent of all injuries are entirely preventable, predictable and can be avoided with common sense,” says Dr. Alan Drummond, an emergency-room physician in Perth, Ontario. Get a head start on winter safety by learning the truth behind these myths.

“I’m safe on the road because I drive a four-wheel-drive vehicle.”

Almost a third of Canadians say they’d choose four-wheel drive to feel safe on winter roads. “Don’t count on it,” says driving instructor John Kurzak in Chilliwack, B.C. A four-wheel-drive vehicle may be less likely to skid, but it’s more difficult to control when it does. All-season or snow tires are a better bet for road safety.

“I don’t need sunscreen during the winter.”

The sun is lower in the sky in winter, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to protect your skin. “It’s easy to get a sunburn in the wintertime, just from the reflection off the snow’s surface,” says Halifax dermatologist Rob Miller. That’s unlikely to happen if you spend your daylight hours indoors. But if you spend an afternoon walking in the park or skiing, your face is exposed to potentially damaging ultraviolet rays, making sunscreen a smart idea.

“After a heavy snowfall, I should remove the snow from my roof.”

You may be tempted to climb a ladder after a snowstorm and clear the roof of your house. “But it’s better to pay an expert,” Drummond notes. “We see people all the time in the ER who’ve fallen off the roof, breaking bones or getting head injuries.”

“There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the smell of a wood fire.”

Actually, if you can smell your wood-burning fireplace, you’re polluting your air. Wood smoke is linked to breathing problems and even a compromised immune system. If you must use a fireplace, avoid stoking it up on hazy or windless days, when pollutants will stick close to the ground. Burn only dry, seasoned hardwood, never garbage or pressure-treated wood. And keep the damper open. The Canadian Lung Association recommends hiring a certified technician to clean and inspect your fireplace every year.

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