Snow shoveling and snow removal safety

Heavy snowfalls aren’t particularly unusual here in New England, we pride ourselves on our ability to deal with the white stuff. But hospital emergency room staffers would be the first to tell you: a seemingly simple task like snow shoveling can cause a lot of grief – every year, they see thousands of people with snow-removal related injuries ranging from back strain and hypothermia to heart attacks and amputations.
Snow shoveling can be a fairly strenuous activity and you should approach it the same way you would any vigorous activity. Take health factors into consideration and check with your doctor if you have any question about the suitability of this type of activity. If you have heart disease or have experienced a heart attack, or if you have elevated blood pressure or cholesterol levels, you should get someone else to do your shoveling. Other populations that should exert extreme caution before picking up a shovel: smokers, the elderly, and out of shape, sedentary types.
Here are some basic shoveling safety tips:

  • Dress for the task. Wear multiple light layers of water-repellent clothing. Cover your extremities. Wear a hat, warm socks and gloves.
  • Pick the right tool. Make sure you don’t use a shovel that is too big for you. Generally, smaller, lighter shovels are better than big ones. Many ergonomists recommend a curved rather than a straight handle. Space your hands apart when gripping the handle to maximize your leverage.
  • Before shoveling, start by warming up. Walk or perform stretching exercises for 10 or 15 minutes.
  • Pace yourself. Start slowly, don’t rush. Maintain a moderate, steady pace. Take occasional breaks.
  • Make your legs do the work. Keep your feet apart for balance and keep your shovel close to your body. Bend with your knees and lift with your legs, not with your back. Avoid lifting if pushing will do.
  • Avoid twisting your torso. It’s better to take a few steps to dump your load of snow than to twist and throw. Keep your feet pointed in direction you are lifting and throwing.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated, but avoid caffeine and other stimulants that may increase your heart rate.
  • Stop immediately if you feel any sign of dizziness, shortness of breath, pain, sweating, or nausea. If you experience pain, particularly in your chest or arm, get it checked out asap – better to be safe than sorry.

Snow blowers are also a source of many winter trips to the emergency room – usually for injuries to the hands or fingers, including amputations. If you have a snow-blower, take a minute to review these snow-blower safety tips from Consumer Reports.