What about Pedestrians? Fall Prevention During the Winter

Feb 16, 2011
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The Center for Disease Control and multiple other studies show that more than a third of older adults fall each year.[i] Research also shows that between 10 to 20 falls cause injuries such as fractures and head traumas[ii].

A number of useful resources exist on the topic of fall prevention such as the Center for Disease Control: Preventing Falls among Seniors (http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/duip/spotlite/falltips.htm) and  What You can Do to Prevent Falls and Check for Safety: A Fall Prevention Checklist for Older Adults, (http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/pubs/English/brochure_Eng_desktop-a.pdf)

I found numerous factsheets and tip sheets on Preventing falls during the Winter Months.  One example was published by the Utah Safety Council[iii]. The Council has fall prevention tip sheets focused on children as well as older adults.   Among the suggested tips to prevent falls was to “Always use sidewalks and the cleared paths in parking lots”.

Our country has been hit hard recently by winter weather.  Snow, sleet, freezing rain, and ice create hazardous roadways, walkways, and travel conditions.  Plows are out putting down salt and sand to combat the wintry weather for drivers.  What about pedestrians?

The challenge with some of presented fall prevention strategies for people with mobility issues, regardless of their age, is that sidewalks and paths are not properly cleared of snow and other debris.  Plows push snow up on to the curbs and mini ice blocks are formed that people with or without disabilities are expected to jump over.

I use mobility aids (poles) and cannot jump over a snow or ice pile.  I often have to plow through the snow and ice with my feet and devices to get to the cleared road.  The result from such attempts in the best case is wet feet and in the worst case, a fall.

Once I get over or through the snow pile that covers the curb, I face being splattered by mud from cars that pass by too quickly as I stand and wait for the traffic light to turn green.  I suck in my breath and also stand ready to dive into the snow bank if a car fails to see me as they barrel by.  Once I make it across the street, I often face additional snow and ice banks to get to sidewalks which have not been shoveled.

In my activist moments, I will enter the businesses that have not tended to the snow and ice covered walkway. I request to see the manager of the establishment.  The manager and I speak, and I ask that salt and other snow removal substances be put down, clearly emphasizing my mobility issue.  The manager will smile regretfully and indicate that I need to call someone else—the City regarding the maintenance of the curbs, the Bus company for the maintenance of the bus stops, and yet another different company for the maintenance of the parking lots.

I smile back with similar regret pointing to my wet feet or mud covered coat.  How are pedestrians and walkers like me supposed to manage?  I have placed the calls to the City, the Bus Company, etc.  I have rallied fellow walkers to call the establishments to get the spaces cleared.  However, when another storm hits, the same challenges re-emerge.

I have adopted the suggested fall prevention strategies such as using ice grippers on my walking devices or shoes.  Sadly, I still have wet feet and a mud-covered coat. Don’t forget about the pedestrians, the people who are your neighbors and your customers.

Businesses and our neighbors can support fall prevention by keeping sidewalks and pathways clear.  Fall prevention applies to us all.

[i] http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html

[ii] http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html

[iii] http://www.utahsafetycouncil.org/content.asp?id=209

Author: Kerry