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Managing common health & safety hazards in winters

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Sultan Kiani


Unlike long intense summers, we experience milder and shorter winters in Pakistan except for the northern region and mountainous Balochistan. Nevertheless, changing seasons demands a change in daily life routine. Here are some tips to deal with these issues.



Winter comes with different kinds of safety and health hazards. Here we have listed some of the most common ones and preventive measures to stay safe and healthy in cold weather:


Dehydration:

You may not feel thirsty when it is cold but still be dehydrated. Insufficient fluid intake could make you more susceptible to illness. Always make sure to drink plenty of water in cold weather. It is okay to have a cup of tea or two every day, however, too much caffeine is also bad for your health.


Respiratory Health Problems:

These health issues become common public nuisance as temperature drops below 15°C. The cold and dry atmosphere provides perfect conditions for spreading upper and lower respiratory infections including flu and pneumonia etc. Dry winters are also infamously known for exacerbating chronic conditions like asthma, dust and dander allergies. Here is what you should do to reduce your chances of getting sick:

  • Wear a dustproof face mask when outdoors; particularly when you are walking or riding a bike etc.

  • Use a humidifier when the indoor humidity level drops

  • Wash hands often with soap and water; your hands play a very important role in spreading viral respiratory infections. Keep them clean!

  • Eat a balanced and healthy diet; avoid fatty and sugary food.

  • When feel sick, do not self-medicate. Particularly antibiotics may only be prescribed by a qualified physician. Mild to moderate colds and flu usually go away within a week with proper rest and the use of minimal over-the-counter medicines. However, a patient may seek medical help if they do not feel well, or their condition gets worse.

SMOG Related Issues:

Luckily, we do not get heavy snowfall in major cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, but unfortunately, we get smog instead! The mixture of fog, dust particles and smoke is known as smog; a toxic fog that has recently emerged as a newer winter hazard. Smog is seriously threatening public health and safety in South Asia and Lahore has officially become the “Smog Capital”. One of the severe health hazards of this toxic fog formation is respiratory problems which we have just discussed. Other smog-related hazards include itchy eyes, worsening health of heart patients and traffic accidents.

Although it is almost impossible to eliminate smog without taking strict large-scale measures, here are some things we can do to minimize these risks:

  • Wear face and eye protection while riding a bike or walking in heavily polluted zones.

  • Wash your hands and face with water right after you get home.

  • Gargling with lukewarm saline water can soothe sore throat.

  • Sensitive and allergic individuals may take antihistamines as per the physician's prescription.

  • Avoid long travels on highways in poor visibility.

  • Keep your car's lights, indicators, and horn in perfect condition. Use FOG Lights whenever required and always remember to switch them off when visibility improves.

  • Drink warm beverages like herbal and honey garlic tea but avoid strong caffeinated drinks.

Visiting a Hill Station:

Winters in some regions of Pakistan could still be quite harsh. While the natives have no choice but to survive in intense cold, some thrill-seekers travel to these areas for the sake of adventure!


Taking a perilous journey without precautions could prove deadly. The 2022 Snowstorm of Murree claimed 23 lives, all of them were tourists. This shows how dangerous a snowstorm can be. Following these basic safety tips could help reduce the risk: 

  • If you are driving, make sure your vehicle is roadworthy and capable of going uphill with the engine, transmission, brakes, tires, and wipers in perfect working condition. And do not forget to bring a set of tire chains. You would need those chains to safely drive on snowy roads.

  • It could still be dangerous if the vehicle is perfect but the person behind the wheel is not a good driver. Remember! Driving in hilly areas, particularly during snowfall, is much different than driving on motorways in plain areas. If you are not familiar with mountainous road driving, seek the help of an experienced driver.

  • Hypothermia and frostbite are some serious hazards of being in extremely low temperatures. Wear appropriate clothes; always bring jackets, raincoats and pants.

  • Slips and falls are also common, so it is advisable to wear slip-resistant footwear, preferably snow boots.

  • Bring all necessary medicines, flashlights and food with you. You also need to have multiple sources of communication; at least 2 mobile phones with working SIM cards of all networks and preferably an FM radio.

  • Hill stations are overcrowded during holidays and finding accommodation could become hectic. Make sure to reserve a suitable hotel room to stay in the night.

  • What NOT to do if get stranded in snow: it is notable to mention that all those 23 people who died in Murree 2 years ago were due to carbon monoxide poisoning rather than hypothermia! So, it is important to keep yourself warm but sitting or sleeping in a car during snowfall with all windows rolled up and engine running could kill you. What happens is that, as falling snow builds up around the car, it blocks the exhaust pipe. And then carbon monoxide gas could enter the passenger cabin killing the occupants in a matter of minutes! So do not roll up all the windows if you are stuck in a snowstorm and the car's engine is running. Also, keep clearing snow around the car to prevent the exhaust pipe from getting blocked.

We do not advise visiting hill stations just to have a snowball fight with buddies. But if you must visit, always come fully prepared!


CO Poisoning & Gas Leaks and Fires at Home:

We have use space and water heaters in winter. These gas-operated devices can cause deadly accidents in many ways including carbon monoxide poisoning as well as gas explosions. A complete Gas Safety guide had been published in a previous edition of the monthly Subh-e-Nau. Here are some basic tips to avoid gas-related mishaps in winter:

  1. Never install any Gas Water Heater, even a small one, inside a bathroom.

  2. Do not use the gas space heaters in closed rooms with no or poor ventilation.

  3. Always turn off your heater by the main valve before you sleep

  4. Install a gas leak and CO detector in your house

  5. If you suspect a gas leakage, open all doors and windows, shut the gas by the main valve, do not light a matchstick to check a gas leak and do not touch any electric switch.

  6. Hot water taps should be used with care; keep them out of the reach of children. Do not leave your young kids unattended in the bathroom with hot water taps running to prevent scald injuries while bathing.

Seasonal Affective Disorder:

Last but not least, a winter-related hazard is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder a.k.a SAD. It may sound weird but very little or no exposure to sunlight can indeed aggravate depression, anxiety and mood disorders in certain individuals. Other than feeling down, insomnia or poor sleep quality is a very common symptom of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Spending good time in sunlight is advised to overcome SAD. You may need to consult a psychiatrist if your mental health condition does not improve or gets worse.


We hope that you will manage these common winter hazards by following the basic safety tips. Stay safe during this winter time and beyond!

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