Slip and fall injuries can happen year-round, but winter is an especially hazardous time. Snow and ice can make it difficult for pedestrians to get around safely and create barriers for anyone with a walker, wheelchair, or mobility device.

Chances are you’ll walk away from a slip or fall uninjured, with only a few bruises or scrapes, or with no injuries at all. But sometimes, the injuries resulting from slips and falls can be devastating, especially for seniors. Not only are older adults more likely to fall during winter, but they also have a higher chance of complications and severe injury.

Slip and fall injuries requiring immediate medical attention include:

  • Broken bones or fractures, including hips or pelvis
  • Back, neck, or spine injuries
  • Torn ligaments and tendons
  • Paralysis
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Internal bleeding

For seniors, a slip and fall accident could even cause death.

Reducing your risk of falling

Consider the following tips to prevent slip and fall injuries during the winter months:

  • Wear proper footwear made of anti-slip material that provides traction on snow and ice, avoiding plastic and leather-soled shoes or boots
  • Exercise caution when entering and exiting vehicles; use the vehicle for balance and support
  • Try walking only in designated areas that are safe for foot traffic; walk on the adjacent grass if a walkway is covered in ice for more traction
  • Avoid inclines that are usually challenging to walk up or down, which could be more treacherous when icy
  • To maintain your centre of balance, take smaller steps, walk slowly, and never run
  • When possible, walk with your hands-free to keep your balance, and avoid putting your hands in your pockets, despite the cold; if you slip, they may help you break a fall
  • To assist in steadying your feet, use handrails, walls, or anything stationary
  • Avoid hazards by keeping an eye on the path in front of you
  • Test a potentially slippery area by tapping your foot on it first before putting your full weight on it
  • Steer clear of floor openings and other drop-offs
  • To provide traction, sand or salt icy and snow-covered surfaces on your property
  • Dry your footwear on floor mats when entering a building
  • Immediately seek shelter in the event of severe weather conditions

Should you feel yourself slipping:

  • Twist your body and roll backward to avoid falling forward and injuring your face
  • Make an effort to relax your body if you feel your legs begin to slip
  • If you’re carrying a load, throw it to the side, so it doesn’t land on you when you fall; this will also free your arms to help break your fall

“Be nice, clear your ice.”

You hear it every winter because it’s true. Keeping sidewalks and pathways around your property clear of snow and ice is your first step to reducing the risk of injury for others and yourself. It’s also the law.

You run the risk of being sued if someone falls and injures themselves on your property, regardless of the season. The timeframe varies depending on the municipality; however, most by-laws expect homeowners to remove all snow and ice from sidewalks within 24 to 48 hours after a snowfall has ended.

In Kitchener-Waterloo, property owners are responsible for clearing sidewalks connected to a residence or business within 24 hours after a snow or ice storm ends; in neighbouring Cambridge, it’s 36 hours. Make sure to review your local by-laws to ensure you understand your responsibilities during a snow event.

Check your policy

You could be found negligent and liable if an icy, snow-covered stretch of sidewalk in front of your home causes a pedestrian to fall and hurt themselves. Homeowner’s insurance policies typically cover this type of cost, which will reduce your risk of paying out of pocket should an incident occur.

Check your homeowner’s insurance policy and talk to your Cowan broker to make sure you have adequate liability insurance coverage.