How to keep yourself safe this winter

In this season of slippery surfaces, even a short walk can become a hazard. But taking some common-sense precautions—along with a couple of lessons from penguins and stunt artists—can go a long way in preventing trips or getting hurt by falls.

Below, the Johns Hopkins Department of Health, Safety, and Environment passes along tips for navigating snowy or icy paths:

  • Choose the right shoes. Go for waterproof, well-insulated shoes with a thick, nonslip sole and wide, low heel. Leave the high heels and smooth-soled shoes at home.

  • Be careful and deliberate. Don't rush when you're walking outdoors. Avoid distractions (i.e., using a cellphone or carrying a large load), and keep your hands free to help balance. Choose well-marked paths and avoid areas that haven't been fully cleared or treated. When handrails are available, use them.

  • Step down, not out. When you're getting out of a vehicle or stepping off a curb, put your feet directly down instead of striding forward.

  • Walk like a penguin. Take a cue from the cold-weather bird that's already mastered walking on ice and snow: Bend your knees slightly to keep a lower center of gravity, and take short, slow steps so you can respond quickly to any changes in traction. If dragging or shuffling your feet feels safer, go for that.

  • Fall "the right way." If you do indeed find yourself slipping, experts such as physical therapists and stunt professionals agree there's a "right" way to fall to reduce injuries.

As this New York Times article notes, protecting your head is first and foremost, so tuck it in as you pivot to the side. Avoid falling straight forward or backward, or directly on your wrists or knees. Instead, absorb the hit on the fleshiest parts of your body—and, as martial artists and paratroopers already know—try your best to roll into the fall to break its impact.

As a black belt jujitsu instructor says in the article: "Accept that you're falling and go with it, round your body, and don't stiffen, and distribute the energy so you take the fall in the widest area possible."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 there were 34,860 workplace injuries and illnesses involving ice, sleet, or snow that required at least one day away from work to recuperate. Maryland ranked in the top 10 of highest-incidence states.