Watch out for black ice while driving, walking

  • Published
  • By Steve Serrette
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Safety Office
Encountering black ice, whether you're driving a privately owned or government vehicle or traveling on foot, is a cause of many injuries during the winter months.

What is black ice? It's a very thin layer of frozen water without many air bubbles. It's the lack of air bubbles that make the layer of ice transparent and creates the illusion of a wet, rather than icy, road. This can be detrimental to anyone who comes upon a black ice covered road unknowingly. Out of nowhere the vehicle (or your feet) can start to skid and slide in any direction, causing a mishap.

During the 2012 holiday season, there were five Class A mishaps Air Force-wide: three PMV-related fatalities and one GOV-related Class A (permanent total disability). Class C vehicle-related mishaps for this period totaled 78; eight on-duty and 70 off-duty. While not all were due to ice or other winter road conditions, the odds are great for this type of mishap.

When your on-duty responsibilities include a vehicle (as well as your PMV), a factor to remember is the thickness of the ice and whether or not it's safe to drive over. You may not always be able to tell the thickness so to help you can find some guidelines and a chart that outlines safe loads for clear, solid ice at this website:

Additional information for driving on ice or snow can be found at the following websites:
-- www.arifleet.com/publications/safety_tips/tips_for_driving_on_black_ice/
-- www.safetyservicescompany.com/industry-category/ construction/winter-safety-tips-on-driving-on-icy-slopes-or-hills/
-- www.maine.gov/bgs/riskmanage/tipofthemonth/tip20.htm

Ice is not only a danger to drivers, it's a danger to pedestrians as well. The Canadian Safety Council says it best: "Facing an icy surface can be a paralyzing experience. Not everyone has grippers and other safety aids. So, what should you do if it's impossible to avoid an icy patch? Believe it or not, body movements can increase your stability on an icy surface.

"First, slow down and think about your next move. Keep your body as loose as possible; spread your feet to more than a foot apart to provide a base of support. This will help stabilize you as you walk.

"Next, keep your knees loose and don't let them lock. If you can, let them bend a bit. This will keep your centre of gravity lower to the ground, which further stabilizes the body.
"Now you are ready to take a step. Make the step small, placing your whole foot down at once. Then shift your weight very slowly to this foot and bring your other foot to meet it the same way. Keep a wide base of support.

"Some people prefer to drag their feet or shuffle them. If this feels better to you, then do so. Just remember to place your whole foot on the ice at once and keep your base of support approximately one foot wide.

"Of course, it's always better to avoid tricky situations by being prepared and planning a safe route for your walk."

For more on walking safely on ice and snow, visit:

-- www.igb.illinois.edu/safety/walking-safely-slippery-conditions
-- www.reformer.com/localnews/ci_22430105/snow-safety-tips-walking-and-shoveling
-- www.dvidshub.net/news/100862/walking-thin-ice-know-before-you-go
-- https://canadasafetycouncil.org/senior-safety/safety-tips-winter-walking