Stay safe on the slopes

Andrew Robinson
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Winter recreation fans and workers need to think safety

Kevin Vincent — File photo

Kevin Vincent, a veteran skier and snowboarder, started wearing a helmet while snowboarding in 1996. A couple of tough spills convinced him it was necessary.

“You don’t want to see stars again, so you wear a helmet,” said the Corner Brook resident, also a former president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Snowboard Association.

According to data compiled on injuries sustained from winter activities, it is for good reason snowboarders and skiers should take safety precautions.

In 2010-11, there were 2,329 hospital admissions in Canada related to a skiing or snowboarding fall or crash. That figure is double the number of admissions compiled for hockey as well as for snowmobiling.

Those numbers are consistent with data reported over the last five years by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), which released its findings Tuesday.

Vincent, who has worked for ski patrols on Vancouver Island and at Marble Mountain, said it is important for people hitting a ski hill or half-pipe to find ones appropriate to their individual skill level.

“Don’t go beyond your abilities,” he said.

Vincent has witnessed people injure their knees attempting difficult landings on jumps. Concussions are a more common snowboarding or skiing-related injury, he said.

“When you’re doing 40 or 50 kilometres an hour and you hook an edge, that impact accelerates to a sudden stop. It all goes back to knowing your abilities and riding within your abilities and not pushing too hard, too far or too fast.”

Of 415 hospitalizations for serious head injuries related to winter sport or recreational activity, 135 were the result of skiing or snowboarding accidents, according to CIHI.

Obeying signage is also a necessity for safety’s sake, said Vincent.

Ice hazards

CIHI data found there were more than 7,100 hospital admissions for serious injuries caused by falls on ice. Almost half were for people age 60 and over, with approximately 70 per cent accounting for people 50 and over.

“That’s a pattern that we really have to pay attention to in Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Leslie Galway, CEO for the Workplace, Health, Safety and Compensation Commission.

The problem here, she said, is that the average worker in this province is older than in most other Canadian provinces.

“Therefore, we have to take a very serious look at what’s happening to workers during the winter months, and the fact the injuries they sustain often result in hospitalization, and no doubt that leads to workers who have longer recovery periods and challenges with returning to work.”

Galway said additional winter injury concerns exist when it comes to cold weather, particularly in northern Labrador, where hypothermia is a danger.

As for the island, Galway said the unpredictable nature of winter weather can lead to problematic driving conditions. She said construction projects now operate at times of the year when they traditionally may have shut down, thus employees and employers must stay aware of the hazards winter may bring.

“I think it’s incredibly important for the employers and the workers to work together as they look at the hazard assessments they face,” said Galway.

Postal workers delivering mail and staff retrieving shopping carts outdoors would be among those more at risk of taking a tumble during the winter, according to Trish Dodd, founder of the Newfoundland and Labrador Injured Workers Association.

Dodd echoed Galway’s concerns about the need for employees and employers to work together to prevent injuries, but added the nature of the season can make them hard to avoid in some instances.

“You can be as careful as you like, both parties, but there’s going to be slips and falls on ice and snow, particularly for postal workers and truck drivers,” she said. “We always have to be aware that a slip and fall can be a disabler in life.”

Twitter: TeleAndrew

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Snowboard Association.According, Canadian Institute for Health Information, CIHI

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Canada, Vancouver Island Marble Mountain Newfoundland and Labrador Northern Labrador

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