As the winter season approaches, it's essential to take precautions. The icy weather puts people at risk of hypothermia, frostbite, heart attack, car accidents and even carbon monoxide poisoning. Use these tips from the National Safety Council and the Department of Homeland Security to ensure a safe holiday season.

Snow, sleet and ice can cause hazardous road conditions. The Department of Transportations says 445,000 Americans are injured in weather-related accidents every year, with 6,000 of those incidents being fatal. Before driving in winter weather, the National Safety Council says to:

— Test your battery; battery power drops as the temperature drops

— Make sure the cooling system is in good working order

— Have winter tires with a deeper, more flexible tread put on your car

— If using all-season tires, check the tread on your tires and replace if less than 2/32 of an inch

— Check the tire pressure; tire pressure drops as the temperature drops

— Check your wiper blades and replace if needed

— Add wiper fluid rated for -30 degrees

— Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze

The council adds that drivers should clean their car's camera lenses and rear-view mirrors, and to remove dirt from sensors that enable assistive-driving features like automatic emergency brakes. Be sure to warm your car in advance, but avoid doing so in a garage even if the garage door is up. Running a vehicle inside a garage can cause carbon monoxide to fill the space, which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

If the weather looks bad, the National Safety Council recommends waiting until the weather subsides to drive. If waiting isn't an option, remember to share your plans and route with others. When driving in snowy weather, avoid using cruise control, accelerate and deaccelerate slowly, increase the following distance to at least eight seconds, and do not stop when driving uphill if possible.

Many find themselves shoveling snow in their frigid yard, but caution must be taken when doing strenuous activities in the cold. The American Heart Association says snow shoveling leads to thousands of injuries and as many as 100 deaths every year. Cold weather causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which could lead to blood clots and constricted arteries.

The National Safety Council advises:

— Do not shovel after eating or while smoking

— Take it slow and stretch out before you begin

— Shovel only fresh, powdery snow; it's lighter

— Push the snow rather than lifting it

— If you do lift it, use a small shovel or only partially fill the shovel

— Lift with your legs, not your back

— Do not work to the point of exhaustion

— Know the signs of a heart attack, and stop immediately and call 911 if you're experiencing any of them; every minute counts

If using a snowblower, remember to turn it off if it jams, not to touch the moving parts, be aware of the carbon monoxide poisoning risk when used in enclosed spaces, add fuel outside and only when the machine is off, and never leave the snow blower unattended.

With shoveling snow and all other winter activities, always limit your time outside and bundle up in layers of warm, dry clothing. Be on the lookout for signs of frostbite or hypothermia. Frostbite usually occurs on fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chins.

"Superficial frostbite affects the skin surface while the underlying tissue remains soft. The skin appears white, waxy or grayish-yellow and is cold and numb," says the National Safety Council. If you suspect someone has frostbite, the council says to:

— Move the victim out of the cold and into a warm place

— Remove wet clothing and constricting items

— Protect between fingers and toes with dry gauze

— Seek medical attention as soon as possible

— Warm the frostbitten area in lukewarm water (99 to 104 degrees) for 20 to 30 minutes only if medical care will be delayed and if there is no danger of the skin refreezing

— Do not use chemical warmers directly on frostbitten tissue

— Protect and elevate the frostbitten area

Hypothermia occurs if one's body temperature drops below 95 degrees. Severe shivering, drowsiness or exhaustion, confusion, shallow breathing, irregular heartbeat, slurred speech and unconsciousness are all signs of hypothermia. If someone is suffering from hypothermia, the National Safety Council advises:

— Check responsiveness and breathing, and call 911; except in mild cases, the victim needs immediate medical care

— Provide CPR if unresponsive and not breathing normally

— Quickly move the victim out of the cold

— Remove wet clothing

— Warm the victim with blankets or warm clothing

— Only if the victim is far from medical care, use active rewarming by putting the victim near a heat source and putting warm (but not hot) water in containers against the skin

— Do not rub or massage the victim’s skin

— Be very gentle when handling the victim

— Give warm (not hot) drinks to an alert victim who can easily swallow, but do not give alcohol or caffeine

These steps for frostbite and hypothermia only serve as first aid and do not substitute for proper medical attention. Call 911 as soon as possible.

As mentioned, running a car or snow blower in an enclosed space increases the risk of carbon monoxide poison. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness and death. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:

— Have your furnace, water heater and any other gas or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year

— Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors

— Have your chimney checked and cleaned every year, and make sure your fireplace damper is open before lighting a fire and well after the fire is extinguished

— Never use a gas oven for heating your home

— Never use a generator inside your home, basement or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent; fatal levels of carbon monoxide can be produced in just minutes, even if doors and windows are open

— Never run a car in a garage that is attached to a house, even with the garage door open; always open the door to a detached garage to let in fresh air when you run a car inside

A battery-operated carbon monoxide detector can be put in a hallway near each sleeping area in your home. Be sure to check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall and replace the detector every five years.

If the carbon monoxide alarm goes off, immediately move outside to fresh air, call emergency services, fire department or 9-1-1, do a headcount to ensure everyone has made it out, and do not reenter the premises until emergency responders permit you.

Snowstorms and extreme cold can last anywhere from a few hours to several days. This weather can cut power, heat and communication services. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio provide emergency alerts. If there is a winter storm warning, the Department of Homeland Security says:

— Stay off roads

— Stay indoors and dress warmly

— Prepare for power outages

— Use generators outside only and away from windows

— Listen for emergency information and alerts

— Look for signs of hypothermia and frostbite

— Check on neighbors

Homes can be kept out of the cold with insulation, caulking and weather stripping. Prevent pipes from freezing by letting water drip. Gather supplies for if you need to stay home several days without power. Be sure to account for the needs of people and pets, such as medication.

Keep an emergency supply kit for your car. Include jumper cables, sand, a flashlight, warm clothes, blankets, bottled water and non-perishable snacks. If trapped in your vehicle, stay inside.

The Sentinel-Echo reminds everyone to stay safe this winter. The sources for this article can be found on the National Safety Council's website at https://www.nsc.org and on the Department of Homeland Security's Ready.gov.

dcombs@sentinel-echo.com

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