Icy sidewalks means treading carefully for people of all ages (photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Coping with icy hazards in accident-prone Alberta

A lot more sand and gravel are needed to keep sidewalks safe

This winter’s seesawing thaw-freeze cycle shows why Alberta has among the highest incidents in the country of people being hospitalized from falls.

Temperatures have been swinging between the melting point and deep freeze since December. And it’s happening again this week when Saturday’s -20 C is expected to gradually creep up to zero by Thursday.

Streets and sidewalks are extra slick as a result, presenting a slippery challenge to pedestrians — as well as the City of Red Deer’s public works department.

With a $5-million snow clearing budget for this winter and about 65 employees, the department has to keep about 800 km of roadways clear, as well as about 125 km of sidewalks.

“That’s about the same distance as Calgary,” said Doug Halldorson, the city’s roads superintendent.


Walk to prevent falls

Fight ice with free sand

While there’s less snow to plow this winter, ice has been an on-going factor, so more salt-sand mixture has been put down on roads and sidewalks, said Halldorson, who believes many local property owners need to be reminded to clear the sidewalk ice and reduce the hazard for pedestrians.

The city civic works yard provides a sand/ice pile than Red Deer residents can help themselves to.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, nearly 41 Albertans per 100,000 were hospitalized after slips and falls during 2011 to 2016. This is three times Ontario’s rate, and only surpassed by Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island.

Falls can be dangerous at any age. But seniors and disabled people can can suffer the most from fall-related injuries. Icy conditions are a problem, said Twyla Joy Lapointe, a staff worker at The Hub on Ross Street — especially when some people can’t get to bus stops, or getwheelchairs through snowy build up.

While a fear of wiping out can make some people wintertime shut-ins, Lapointe said there are support workers and local volunteers willing to ensure these people get out of the house safely.

After slipping and breaking her wrist while crossing the street four years ago, Monica Morrison, executive-director of the Golden Circle, is wary whenever she sees a slick gleam on the road.

Injuries, especially when not followed up with rehab exercises, can really effect a person’s mobility, said Morrison. “It can be life-changing… People can’t function or participate the way they used to…”

The Golden Circle runs two classes of strengthening indoor exercise programs for seniors weekly, and refers people who are not confident walkers because of balance issues to the Primary Care Network’s Strong and Steady classes.

Morrison talks about doing the “penguin walk” on ice. As Alberta Health Services EMS public educator Adam Loria explains, “You take it slow, bend your knees, have your feet planted slightly out, and you take short, shuffling steps.”

As a paramedic, Loria has handled many soft-tissue injuries and fractures because of falls, and recommends wearing anti-slip soles, or even strapping on ice cleats.


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