Fall Into Winter Safely

  • Published
  • By Dawn Bodenner
  • Air Force Safety Center

As the Fall season’s display of yellow to orange splendor fades, Winter weather moves in, and an impressive range of potential hazards are introduced. From difficulties associated with driving on snow and ice to flying layovers, this holiday season reminds us that off-duty activities such as holiday parties, snowboarding and skiing with friends and family also enter into the winter season safety mix.

The holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is a high-risk period for off-duty preventable mishaps due to the hazards posed by travel, inclement weather, and holiday stress. To ensure you and your family remain safe and injury-free this winter, consider our suggestions to reduce the likelihood of an injury.

“As we look towards the holiday, take a moment to consider safety in all your activities. When traveling, be cognizant that fellow travelers may be fatigued, impatient, or aren’t sober,” said William “Bill” Walkowiak, chief of Occupational Safety for the Department of the Air Force. “This is the season to celebrate, enjoy some downtime, and be thankful while we look to the year ahead. We have much to be thankful for. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and may all your festivities be safe and enjoyable.”

Fall and Winter Holiday Safety Tips:

  • Weather conditions can be unpredictable at times. A bright, beautiful afternoon could turn snowy in minutes and freeze as the temperatures drop. Ensure your vehicle maintenance meets changing weather conditions. As the days get shorter, you could find yourself commuting to or from work in darkness. Check headlights, taillights, brake lights and turn signals to be sure all are working properly and check your battery, fluids, and tire treads.
  • During winter sports and recreation, stay hydrated, dress the part, be avalanche aware in slope conditions, and be prepared for inclement weather even on short hikes. Never leave for an activity without telling someone where you're going and when you expect to be back. Provide your itinerary and don't forget to notify them once you get home safely.
  • Hypothermia safety tips include Prevention, Detection, and Treatment. Prevention is the first step to mitigate hypothermia risk. Always dress the part for all climate conditions.
  • Moving snow can be strenuous, whether you use a shovel or a snow blower. Because cold weather can be hard on the body there is a potential for exhaustion, dehydration, back injury, or heart attack. Treat moving snow like other strenuous activities.
  • To prevent slips, trips, and falls, clear walking surfaces of snow and ice, and spread deicer, as quickly as possible after a winter storm. Wear proper footwear, and remember, ice can easily hide under a light dusting of snow.
  • 3 out of every 5 home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms. Be sure to purchase smoke alarms with the label of a reputable testing agency and test smoke detectors monthly. Always have a fire extinguisher nearby – teach your family how to use it.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless gas, and it can kill you. Anything in the home that burns fuel can potentially become a source of carbon monoxide. CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each bedroom and on every level of the home. Test CO alarms monthly.
  • Before lighting a fire, check to see that the flue is open and keep a screen in front of the fireplace all the time the fire is burning.
  • When decorating at home, place burning candles in stable holders where they cannot be knocked down easily and never leave them unattended or without adult supervision. Place burning candles away from flammable items and blow them out before leaving the room. Deck the halls with non-flammable decorations. Indoor lights should not touch drapes, furniture, or carpets - ensure cords aren’t frayed or broken. Prevent tripping by placing cords and decorations in areas where they won’t be walked on. When using a ladder to hang decorations, always make sure the ladder is on even and solid ground and keep three body parts in contact with the ladder at all times. Remember, mistletoe, poinsettia, lilies, and holly berries are all toxic; it's best to avoid decorating with these plants if you have kids and/or pets.
  • If you are planning to drink alcohol, designate a sober driver, use a taxi, or rideshare, or plan your holiday celebrations at home this year. 



  • A prepared traveler is a safe traveler. Pack light, most airlines charge extra for checked bags, use a carry-on to avoid the cost and the risk of bags getting lost.
  • Book flights early to avoid higher costs or sold-out flights.
  • Arrive early to the airport to be sure you won’t miss your flight, chances of getting another flight are unlikely.
  • In the event of a delay, be patient and courteous. Everyone is trying to get to their destination safely.


  • Think beyond the drive! Plan your route. Allow plenty of time for trips and check weather before traveling. Familiarize yourself with traffic Apps, maps, and directions to check conditions before you leave and while on route.
  • Get vehicle maintenance done before you leave, check tire pressure and fluids, and fill your tank before leaving.
  • Cell phone reception can be spotty or unavailable on legs of your trip especially on high mountain passes and in rural areas. Have a plan in case you have no cell phone reception on legs of your trip.
  • Check the weather forecast for routes along our trip, pack appropriate clothing to meet all climate conditions.
  • Pack extra snacks and water for the trip to keep from frequent stops and in case of a delay.
  • Leave early in the morning to avoid heavier traffic and remember to fasten driver and all passenger seatbelts.
  • Avoid driving while you’re fatigued. Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter travel and weather-related tasks reduces risks.
  • Don’t text and drive. Don’t drive while distracted or impaired.
  • Keep an Emergency Kit handy:
    • Flashlight
    • Mats that can be placed under your tires to increase traction
    • Small bag of sand, salt, or kitty litter to spread around tires to increase traction
    • Shovel
    • Cloth or roll of paper towels
    • Blanket
    • Jumper cables
    • Window-washing solvent to keep the reservoir filled and windshields clean
    • Warning devices-flares or triangles
    • Extra battery for your cellular phone
  • When you reach your destination, keep in mind that driving safety tips apply with other motorized vehicles such as scooters, motorcycles, and UTV/ATVs. Be mentally prepared and know your skill level and the required equipment and gear before taking a ride. 

Off-Duty Motorcycle Riding: 

  • Discuss how planning for a motorcycle ride is crucial with your riding group. Who’s in your group: Coaches, those that want to challenge themselves, and riders that need refreshers. 
  • Think beyond the ride so you are prepared. Anticipate skill, equipment and gear prior to your trip and discuss with your group. Level experience should be appropriate to terrain and weather conditions. Collective level riding experience should meet trip plans. 
  • When planning and preparing for rides and long trips, there are a lot of considerations this time of year due to potential inclement weather and riding environments. Utilize the right equipment: energy gear, climate-related equipment, emergency gear, and a first aid kit.
  • Check tires and gear, then practice first in similar conditions (sand, ice, rain, snow, gravel) prior to your trip.
  • Make sure the group you go out with has established a “safe word” when you need to stop, take a break, recollect, etc.  
  • When should you turn around? Trying to keep up when you want a break, entering a dangerous situation, above your or collective experience, e.g., “this is beyond me.” 
  • Know when to seek alternate routes. 
  • Establish checkpoints, such as a spouse or friend to check in.
  • For more Motorcycle riding tips:  https://www.safety.af.mil/News/Videos/videoid/835220/



  • Wash your hands and surfaces often with warm, soapy water.
  • Separate foods, be careful not to cross-contaminate especially when handling raw turkey.
  • Always cook foods at the correct temperature, checking with a food thermometer to avoid under and over cooking.
  • According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Thanksgiving Day has the highest number of home-cooking fire incidents. Fires are likely to occur about three times more on this day than any other day of the year. Keep things that can catch fire like oven mitts, wooden utensils, food wrappers, and towels away from direct contact with the cooking area. Avoid long sleeves and hanging fabrics that could come in contact with a heat source. What causes most Thanksgiving fires? Leaving food unattended while it was cooking was the leading cause of Thanksgiving cooking fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Fire-causes-and-risks/Seasonal-fire-causes/Thanksgiving
  • With all the festivities going on in your home, such as visiting with friends and relatives, you may be distracted and not keeping an eye on your cooking. Never leave cooking food unattended. Stay in the kitchen when you are cooking on the stove top so you can keep an eye on the food. When cooking a turkey or other items in the oven, stay in your home and check on them regularly. Fry a turkey outside only and away from your home. Do not overfill or overheat the oil in the turkey fryer.
  • Keep children and pets out of the cooking area when adults aren’t present. Be especially careful when children and pets are near turkey fryers, and always have a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Promptly refrigerate all leftovers and never refrigerate a turkey that’s been stuffed.  Be sure to remove all stuffing from the turkey cavity before refrigeration.