There’s a lot to love about winter, but walking on ice isn’t one of them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 million Americans are injured in slip and fall accidents each year, with the majority of these occurring while walking on slick surfaces. Unkempt sidewalks, unplowed pavement, and hard-to-see slippery patches make it difficult to get around on foot in the cold months. The good news is that there are safety measures you can take to reduce the risk of ice-related injuries.
Maintain surfaces at home
Driveways, patios, decks, and other surfaces at home are responsible for many ice-related slips and falls. People often neglect to clear these surfaces, either because of time constraints, lack of proper equipment, or not realizing they’re that dangerous. But walking on ice at home is potentially more dangerous because we’re familiar with our own properties and are thus more likely to take them for granted.
The most important thing you can do at home is to shovel your driveway and walkways after a snowstorm. This will prevent the resulting snow from getting packed down under your feet and solidifying into blocks of lumpy ice.
Using rock salt is also useful, but make sure that you use the appropriate kind for your region. You can safely use sodium chloride in areas where temperatures only drop to about 32 degrees Fahrenheit. For regions that dip down to 0, magnesium chloride is ideal, and for places where temperatures drop even further, use calcium chloride.
If it’s in your budget, consider installing heating panels under the driveway surface, though that is costly and an extensive construction project.
Footwear and foresight
Appropriate shoes and boots are essential for safely walking on ice. At the very least, avoid footwear with smooth, flat soles. Instead, wear sneakers or boots that have a heavy duty rubber tread on the bottoms. Ice cleats—shoes with special treads designed to dig into icy surfaces—are a good idea if you live or work in an area predisposed to lots of ice and snow.
You can also try traction cleats, which fasten onto the shoes or boots you already have, adding ice treads to your favorite footwear. Just remember that even if you use traction cleats, you should still wear shoes or boots with their own rubber traction—traction cleats don’t make flat-bottomed shoes safe on ice.
Another important, often-overlooked factor for staying safe walking on ice is paying attention to your surroundings. It may sound simple, but many ice slips are merely the result of not paying attention. Watch out for icy patches known as “black ice,” which can usually be spotted in daylight hours if you’re walking slowly enough and watching the ground. Anywhere you see a wet spot, assume it’s slippery. Wear sunglasses to defend against the blinding glare of sun on snow. This will help you keep an eye out for dangerous areas.
If a non-icy path is available, take that instead. Use handrails where available. Finally, don’t put your hands in your pockets when you walk. Believe it or not, it throws off your balance, which leads to a higher risk of falling if you do slip.
Walk like a penguin
Most people know that penguins spend most of their lives walking on ice, so it stands to reason that we have something to learn from them. Penguins tend to waddle along icy surfaces instead of walking. Sometimes, you’ll also see them with their wings extended slightly to add balance. While it may seem silly, it’s not a bad idea to mimic their behavior. Take short steps, gently shifting your weight from side to side, using your arms for balance when necessary. And of course, go slowly! You might be surprised at how much more comfortable you are walking on ice this way.
The safest route
The safest route to take is to avoid walking on ice altogether. It’s not always possible, but when it’s an option, take it. Don’t try to use shortcuts across snow piles, frozen puddles, or other slippery surfaces. They won’t make your trip much shorter if you fall and wind up in the emergency department! When you have no choice but to walk on icy paths, it’s a good idea to wear thick, cushioned clothing so that if you do fall, at least you’ll have something soft between you and the ground. It doesn’t guarantee you won’t get hurt, but it certainly can help to minimize the damage so that you can enjoy the better parts of winter.