Simple ways to protect yourself from 4 common winter hazards

To everything there is a season, including health and safety hazards. So today I will review some typical hazards associated with winter (and expose some myths).

Hazard #1: Accidents around the house

It’s all too easy to slip and fall on the walkway, driveway and yard around your house in the winter. But good balance and muscle strength can help. Also, you may want to try out these five practical tips for avoiding falls that I told you about earlier this year.

If you have to climb up a ladder to get onto the roof to deal with accumulated snow or ice, or to clear clogged gutters, you may want to consider hiring a qualified professional with the proper equipment. And if you left any holiday decorations or lights up on the outside of the house that require climbing or using a ladder to get them down, it might be best to leave them alone until spring. (Use them to celebrate the Chinese New Year with some cheery illumination in February.)

Hazard #2: Accidents on the road

Many people worry about getting into a car accident in the snow and ice in the winter. But what do the studies show?

Yes, driving conditions can turn deadly during the winter, especially when combined with use of alcohol or other intoxicants. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, year round, 30 to 40 fatal vehicular accidents occur per day in the U.S.

Once we get past the Christmas (45 fatalities per day) and New Year’s holidays (54 fatalities per day), the winter fatalities settle down. The highest fatality rates actually occur during the summer. In fact, the July 4th holiday period has a tragic 144 fatalities per day. And teenage drivers account for 10 percent of these fatalities.

While winter roads and weather can be more dangerous, it seems people are more careful. In addition, people do a lot more driving during the summer than winter. (Gas companies know this, so they begin raising gas prices in May when demand increases.)

Hazard #3: Heating your home

Winter is also the time of year when you may make a fire, light candles, and use space heaters in the home.

Even after you remove the lights from dried out Christmas trees — which cause more than 500 fires per year — sparks from the fireplace can pose hazards. So only use dried, seasoned, hard woods in your fireplace to prevent bursting logs. Also, make sure to keep a fire screen in place over an open hearth. And always extinguish the fire overnight. If you have a wood-burning stove, follow instructions for tending the fire. Blow out candles at night before going to bed.

You should also use caution with kerosene-based space heaters too, as they cause fatalities every year due to carbon monoxide poisoning in the absence of proper ventilation.

Hot air exhaust from combustion of fuel (natural gas, heating oil, or propane) naturally rises and exits through ventilation exhaust ducts without any assistance. But some local building codes require an active “power exhaust” electric fan to blow the exhaust outside.

Apparently, the government doesn’t want to rely on the laws of physics and thermodynamics. It also requires a “safety feature” that shuts off all fuel supply to the boiler or furnace in the event the exhaust fan burns out or the electric power fails. So be prepared with alternate forms of safe heating in the event of a power failure. Government construction codes can let you freeze to death. But they don’t want you succumbing to highly unlikely exhaust poisoning. (If you have hot water  heating, the pipes will freeze and burst, so you can also lose your home to water damage because of these government-required “safety devices.”)

Hazard #4: Cold weather brings more heart attacks

Yes, there are more heart attacks during winter. And many people wrongly assume these heart attacks occur because men and women who don’t typically exercise regularly suddenly go out in the cold and strenuously shovel tons of snow. But according to the research, it’s quite a bit more complicated than that.

In the December 2015 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, I explain exactly why heart attacks are more common in the winter and what you can do to avoid them. If you are a subscriber to my newsletter, you can access that archived issue on my website,, with your username and password. If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started to so you can protect yourself this winter.

And now onto some winter myths…

Myth #1: More suicides?

Many people commonly believe winter triggers more suicide attempts. Yes — lack of sunlight can lead to low mood. (Though you can help your low mood by getting enough vitamin D daily. I recommend 10,000 IU per day.) However, research shows suicides don’t actually increase during the winter. For reasons scientists don’t fully understand, suicides occur more commonly in spring, according to national statistics.

Perhaps the poet T. S Eliot understood more about moods when he wrote, “April is the cruelest month…” in his famous poem about growing old. In winter, we may expect to have a lower mood. But when not even the spring brings that spring to your step anymore…that’s depressing.

Myth #2: Poinsettia poisoning

A French diplomat brought this tropical plant to Europe from Mexico during the French Second Empire. (This plant “migration” occurred when Napoleon III placed his wife’s cousin Maximilian on the throne of Mexico, while the U.S. was looking the other way during the U.S. Civil War). The brilliant red color comes from the pigmented leaves. The flowers are the tiny little yellow dots.

The myth about poinsettia poisoning started in 1919 when a two-year-old child died. The family blamed a poinsettia plant in the house for the child’s death. But at the time, the worst influenza epidemic in history was raging. So it’s far more likely the child suddenly died of the flu.

In fact, according to experts, a 50-pound child would have to eat 500 poinsettia leaves to ingest a toxic level. And the leaves don’t even taste good enough to eat.

You can safely keep your poinsettia plant in the house until spring when you can take it outside and enjoy it all year. It will help cheer up your mood.

Stay safe and stay warm this winter.