When weather outside gets frightful

Icicles form on a Shaw Air Force Base roadway sign just outside of Shaw’s main gate, Feb. 12, 2014. Though severe winter weather is rare at Shaw, this winter season has presented a fair amount of snow, sleet and ice. More than once this winter season, Shaw AFB has had to reduce its manning to "Mission Essential Personnel" only due to forecasted inclement weather. Team Shaw personnel are urged to stay off the roadways. Also, the 20th Fighter Wing safety team reminds all personnel to refer to winter safety tips when operating in the inclement winter environment. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Kenny Holston/Released)

Icicles form on a Shaw Air Force Base roadway sign just outside of Shaw’s main gate, Feb. 12, 2014. Though severe winter weather is rare at Shaw, this winter season has presented a fair amount of snow, sleet and ice. More than once this winter season, Shaw AFB has had to reduce its manning to "Mission Essential Personnel" only due to forecasted inclement weather. Team Shaw personnel are urged to stay off the roadways. Also, the 20th Fighter Wing safety team reminds all personnel to refer to winter safety tips when operating in the inclement winter environment. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Kenny Holston/Released)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- As the outside temperature continues to drop, individuals face unique risks.

Winter weather concerns can arise from environmental conditions and how people prepare for or react to those conditions can be detrimental to health and safety.

Service members and their families can protect themselves by taking simple measures before entering the cold and while participating in outdoor activities.

One common activity that puts people at risk is driving.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 1,300 people are killed and 116,800 people are injured every year in vehicle incidents occurring on pavement with snow, slush or ice.

Staff Sgt. Geraldo Greaves, 20th Fighter Wing occupational safety technician, provided advice for drivers which could reduce the likelihood of being involved in a collision.
Greaves stated drivers should accelerate and decelerate slowly, and increase the distance at which they normally follow cars to allow for a longer response time.

Due to icy or wet conditions, braking or maneuvering may require more attention and time to avoid sliding or losing control of the vehicle. This is especially important to remember when crossing bridges.

“Exercise caution when driving over bridges,” said Graves. “Bridges are more susceptible to ice than the normal paved roads due to the underside being fully exposed to ambient temperatures.”

Another related risk can occur when someone fuels their vehicle.

“Static electricity is a serious hazard when working around fuels or other combustible material in cold weather,” said Graves. “Dry winter air increases the development of static electricity. The lack of humidity increases the voltage of static discharges because there is less water vapor to conduct electrical charge away from the human body. The best way to reduce this hazard is by keeping yourself grounded.”

The colder weather may also increase the possibility for illnesses and non-vehicle related injuries.

Risks include illnesses such as hypothermia and frostbite, or injuries which could arise from falls on icy or wet walkways.

“With the level of low temperatures in this region, we do not have (as) serious concerns as (people) stationed in Alaska,” said Maj. Dawn Clauson, 20th Medical Operations Squadron family health flight commander, “but layering clothing with light-weight, breathable materials and wearing a hat (and, or) gloves is the most effective way to minimize frostbite or hypothermia.”

One sign of severe cold weather illness is if an individual stops shivering while not warming up, said Clauson.

If shivering stops and a person becomes clumsy or confused while still exposed to the cold, seek immediate medical assistance.

Clauson also said service members should consider layering clothing, wearing a hat, and hydrating properly when planning physical training in the winter.

“Drinking water is just as important in the winter as in summer,” said Clauson. “One loses water even when not openly sweating like the in summer months.”

While at work, service members also have the task of looking out for each other.

“It is your supervisor’s responsibility to provide protection for their workers,” said Greaves. “Protection can be administrative controls, such as implementing work rest cycles to give employees time to warm extremities, and providing personal protective equipment.”

As the winter season approaches, service members and their families can monitor changing risks to be prepared for any situation.