Walk like a penguin to avoid wintertime slips and falls

Released: 01/03/17

Although a winter wonderland may be beautiful, we all know snow and ice can cause injury from slips and falls. In fact, the Injury Facts 2016 report released by the National Safety Council concludes that slips, trips, and falls are the leading cause of injury related deaths for adults 65 years and older. Kristen Heffern, ARNP, occupational health nurse practitioner at Winneshiek Medical Center says that prevention is the best way to stop slips and falls during the winter in icy conditions.

“We encourage everyone to ‘Walk like a Penguin’ in slippery conditions,” says Heffern. Explaining what it looks like to ‘Walk like a Penguin’ she suggests:


  • Keep your center of gravity over your front leg, with your arms free and out to the side (just like a penguin).
  • Walk slowly and deliberately, taking short steps, not large ones.
  • Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart, so you can react quickly to a change in traction when walking on an icy or snow covered walkway.

Additional tips for wintertime safety

  • Start by keeping your own property safe. Be sure to shovel the driveways, walkways, and sidewalks. Salt high traffic areas with a deicer if you think ice may form. If there are especially icy spots, place a sign to warn another of the hazard.
  • Wear boots or other slip-resistant footwear with good rubber treads; or a pair of rubber over shoes with good treads which fit over your street shoes. Then, you can bring your work shoes or dress shoes along to change into.
  • Watch the pathway, and if unsure, explore the area with your toe to see how slippery it is before you put your full weight on the area.
  • Use caution getting in and out of your vehicle. Be sure and step – don’t jump – testing the conditions of the surface of the road or walkway.
  • Although your hands may be cold, don’t put them in your pockets when you are walking. If you slip you need your arms to help restore balance, and catch yourself as you fall.
  • Keep your hands empty and avoid carrying several things while walking on ice or snow as much as possible, as your hands and arms can help with balance and stabilization. If you have to carry something and feel yourself fall, toss the load so you can catch your balance and/or break your fall.
  • If you have things that need to be carried in, drive right up to the door, drop off your things, and then go park your car.
  • Do not talk on the phone or text when walking on icy/snowy areas; pay attention to where you are going.
  • When possible, use handrails when walking up any stairs that may be wet or slippery.
  • Slow down and never run.
  • Use extra caution with crutches and canes as you need to have them perpendicular to the ground to help with traction. There are retractable cleats or ice grip tips available in stores to help on icy surfaces.
  • Use caution when entering a building as visitors track melting snow, ice, and water throughout the hallways, stairwells and other interior areas.
  • Watch the floor mats, as they tend to roll up from heavy traffic and could be a trip hazard.

Heffern adds, “It is my hope that these tips will help remind everyone to be cautious while walking outside and inside this winter season. Let’s prevent those accidental injuries from slips, trips, and falls from the Iowa snow and ice!”

For more information on wintertime preparation and safety, visit www.cdc.gov/features/winterweather/.

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