As the leaves begin to change and fall off the trees there are two things that are for certain: Holiday shopping is going to start even earlier this year and winter weather is right around the corner. Good winter safety practices are key in preventing accident and injuries. Accident and injury prevention must be a part of winter activities, both on and off duty.

Knowing your vehicle is especially useful in winter driving. You should know what your vehicle can and cannot do in winter conditions. (Hint: Your vehicle probably can't do a lot of the things shown in the commercial that made you want to buy it). You should know if you have front, rear, part-time or full-time four-wheel drive; antilock brakes; traction control; and stability control.

Winter driving cannot be avoided. Before setting out on your journey make sure that windows and mirrors are clear from snow and ice. Clearing the window means clearing the entire surface, not just a small porthole to see out of. Contrary to all-too-common practice, you need a bigger window than the vision block found on an M1 Abrams tank.

Maintaining situational awareness is critical in winter driving. Slow down! Just because your vehicle has four wheel-drive does not mean that you can slow down just as fast (even if you have anti-lock brakes). Increasing the distance between you and the car ahead of you can help prevent accidents. Just because you have control of your car doesn't mean everyone else does.

Even if a road looks clear, it may not be. Black ice is a thin and often invisible layer of ice that can potentially form on sections of roads during the cold temperature months. The condition is most prevalent when air temperature drops, below 32A,A(th) F. Contributing factors promoting this condition include: fog or dew condensing on the colder surfaces of bridges, overpasses and shaded areas of roadways, wind-chill, or a rapid drop in ambient temperature causing moisture already on the road surface to freeze suddenly.

How many remember last winter coming into work and someone in the office was complaining about slipping while walking' Last winter, slips and falls were the nation's, and ASC's, leading cause of mishaps. The greatest number occurred while walking down stairs and on sidewalks during inclement weather. Risk assessments must be updated when weather conditions change. Wearing footwear designed for winter can help reduce the risk of falling. Wearing boots and changing into your dress shoes at work is an increasingly popular tactic.

Wind chill is another safety concern that is often overlooked. Wind chill is not the actual temperature, but rather how wind and cold feel on exposed skin. As the wind increases, heat is carried away from the body at an accelerated rate, driving down the body temperature.

When people say winter "bites" it really can. Frostbite is damage caused by extreme cold. A wind chill of -20A,Ao Fahrenheit (F) will cause frostbite in just 30 minutes. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose.

As temperatures start to drop, use of portable space heaters rises. Make sure to unplug heaters after use. Never leave them running when you are not present. If you must, purchase an electric space heater that bears the mark of an independent testing laboratory, such as UL, ETL, CSA, etc. This ensures that the heater has passed all safety measures. Always place space heaters at least three feet away from anything that can burn including furniture, people, pets and window treatments.

Last winter, an ice storm slammed the Quad City area, leaving many without power anywhere from a few hours all the way to a week. In the event of losing power, make sure that you heat your home properly. Using that tailgate party charcoal grill to heat your house is not the right way to do it. Last winter, fire fighters were called to a local house because a man threw a bunch of charcoal in a bathtub and lit it on fire.

To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, do not operate generators indoors; the motor emits deadly carbon monoxide gas. Do not use charcoal to cook indoors. It, too, can cause a buildup of carbon monoxide gas. Do not use your gas oven to heat your home - prolonged use of an open oven in a closed house can create carbon monoxide gas. To ensure carbon monoxide is not a problem, make sure that you have proper detectors installed before winter. (Illinois law mandates that every house must be equipped with at least one approved carbon monoxide alarm within 15 feet of every sleeping room.)

We can't run from it, but winter weather is on its way. Make sure you have a plan with your supervisor for inclement weather. It is up to supervisors to be able to adjust for absences due to weather. Family safety comes first.

It is everyone's responsibility to be alert and attentive to safety. Many accidents that happen can be prevented if people just take the time to do a quick safety assessment.