Severe weather causes uptick in falls, injuries

Icy walkways resulting from recent snowstorms have contributed to an uptick in injuries.


Morgan La Casse

Illustrated by Morgan La Casse

Niamh Coomey

Despite the University of Minnesota encouraging people on campus to “walk like penguins” to avoid falling, many students and faculty members have suffered injuries from slipping on campus sidewalks due to recent severe weather conditions. 

While most students didn’t sustain much more than bruises from their falls, others experienced more serious injuries. Staff at both Boynton Health and Hennepin Healthcare said they have seen more slip and fall injuries this winter than in recent years.

According to Holly Ziemer, Boynton’s marketing and communications director, Boynton provided 80 X-rays between Feb. 4 and Feb. 8. This number is twice what they typically see in a week, Ziemer said in an emailed statement.

Boynton also saw significant injury numbers continue into this past week, with 57 fractures, 15 lacerations and 16 concussions between Feb. 4 and Feb. 15. Though these were not all necessarily weather-related, Ziemer wrote, clinicians say these numbers are higher than normal. 

Jill Wooldridge, Boynton’s interim primary care director, agreed these injury numbers are out of the ordinary. 

“Those two days last week … I think it was at least six fractures just in urgent care and that’s unusual. We see a lot of ankle sprains and a lot of hand [or] wrist injuries, but for them to have that many fractures is unusual,” she said. 

Hennepin Healthcare saw similar numbers, according to Christine Hill, Hennepin Healthcare’s senior media relations specialist. In an emailed statement, Hill said there were over 100 injuries in the emergency room due to falls on ice on Feb. 4 alone.

The University’s Facilities Management has been working to keep campus safe for students during the severe weather conditions. In situations like ice storms and severe weather, over-time workers are out early in the morning clearing sidewalks said Assistant Director for Landcare Tom Ritzer.

A big struggle with the recent severe weather, he said, has been keeping sidewalks clear when rain washes away the chemicals used to reduce the ice. 

“It’s really a challenge to get out there before the people show up for work or for school and try to give the chemicals time to work. And then you combine that with the really cold temperatures we’ve been having lately, … [and] the chemicals [are] being less effective,” Ritzer said. “[Ice events] are definitely a challenge to work with.”

It’s also an ongoing challenge to balance student safety and environmental concerns with some of the methods used to clear the sidewalks, he added. 

“We’re experimenting with different products to try to have more effective melting as well as trying to have lesser environmental impacts,” he said. “We have to balance [safety] with the limited resources … and with the potential environmental degradation,” Ritzer said. 

To avoid falling in the future, Wooldridge advises, pay attention to where you are walking and use the tunnels when possible.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Jill Woolridge’s title. She is the interim primary care director.