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Shoveling Snow Dos and Don'ts

Jan 07, 2020 07:48AM ● By Editor

By Ally Hirschlag from The Weather Channel - Posted:  January 7, 2020

If you live anywhere in the country that sees snowfall, you've likely endured the not-so-fun task of shoveling snow off of a walk and/or driveway. No one loves performing this task — it's cold, wet, strenuous, and often results in some slipping and sliding around. But it's got to be done in order to protect you and others from potentially serious falls and accidents. 

Thankfully, there are some tips and tricks that we can offer that should make the job a little less difficult. There are also some safety measures you might not have considered that will help you stay safe while you work. While snow shoveling may seem simple enough, there's a lot that can go wrong if you don't take the proper precautions. 

Protect your heart

(Getty Images/Tiina & Geir)

Anyone who's shoveled snow knows that the task can be taxing, but coupled with cold weather, the continuous exertion can actually be deadly — especially for someone whose heart is already compromised. According to a Canadian study that looked at the number of heart attacks reported in Quebec hospitals between 1981 and 2013, one-third of the 128,000 heart attacks happened after a substantial snowfall. A BBC report noted that in the United States, an average of 100 cardiac deaths resulting from snow shoveling happened every year between 1990 and 2006. 

One potential reason for this is the Valsalva Effect, which is what can happen when you lift something heavy like a shovel-full of snow. You naturally hold your breath while doing such a strenuous activity — this increases your blood pressure significantly, thereby creating the Valsalva Effect. If you have a heart condition, are regularly inactive, or physically compromised in some way, this condition can be particularly dangerous. Here are some ways you can combat it:

  • Take regular breaks, more than you may think are necessary.
  • Drink a lot of water, as much as you do when you're vigorously exercising.
  • Don't drink caffeine or alcohol before or during.
  • Don't smoke before or during.
  • Try not to shovel excessively large piles of slow and/or ice. 
  • Know the warning signs for a heart attack, including Chest discomfort, shortness of breath, pain or numbness in your arms, back, neck, jaw and/or stomach. If you have any of these symptoms, stop shoveling and see a doctor immediately. 

Take extra care when lifting heavy snow

(Getty Images/Kyryl Gorlov / EyeEm)

Of the approximately 11,500 snow-shoveling related injuries per year that require hospitalization, 34.3% are lower back-related. It's surprisingly easy to tweak your back while lifting something unwieldy, like a shovel with heavy snow on the end, especially if you're not used to lifting weights or if you are elderly. 

The best way to protect your lower back is to stretch before shoveling, use a smaller shovel so you're not lifting as much, keep your hands a good 12 inches apart on the shovel handle, lift with your legs not your back, and take regular breaks. 

Don't use a difficult-to-handle shovel

(Getty Images/Susan Sheldon / EyeEm)

Using a heavy, awkward shovel will make it that much easier to hurt yourself while shoveling. If you can, buy a shovel with a smaller, plastic, curved blade (which is lighter than a metal one). If you only have access to a metal one, try pushing the snow out of the way — a la a snow plow — so you're not risking aggravating your back or joints. 

Don't take on a huge shoveling task if you don't feel equipped

If you're recovering from an injury, are over the age of 55, are compromised in another way, or have over 50 feet of walkway and driveway to shovel, it might be worth hiring someone to do the job for you. 

Dress in layers and wear waterproof shoes with traction

(Getty Images/LWA/Dann Tardif)

It's important to stay warm while you're exerting yourself outside in the cold, but as you continue shoveling, you'll likely warm up. If you dress in layers, you can take one or two off as you work so you don't overheat. And, if it starts to get chilly again, you'll have those layers nearby. 

In order to avoid unnecessary slipping and sliding, as well as injuries from a potential fall, you'll want to wear well-insulated shoes with good traction. Duck boots are a great example, since they have a waterproof base, rugged soles and usually lace up high to help keep snow out of your shoes. 

Of course, don't forget to also wear insulated, waterproof gloves. Ones with finger and palm grips are ideal. 

Don't rush the job

This goes hand-in-hand with protecting your heart. If you take things slow and steady, you won't overexert yourself, which will lower any risk you may have of stressing your body. It'll also help you avoid less serious accidents like strains, slips and falls. 

Consider a snowblower

(Getty Images/Caven Images)

If you're at all concerned about your ability to shovel snow safely, you may want to consider using a snowblower instead. While they are expensive, you can usually rent them from your local hardware store in a pinch (although if a snowstorm is imminent, you'll want to reserve yours quickly as they'll likely fly off the shelves). 

While snowblowers offer a quicker, less strenuous way to clear snow, the machines come with their own list of dos and don'ts. Here are a few to note:

  • Look for a sticker on your snow blower that tells you it’s been approved by a safety organization like the OPEI, ANSI, CSA, ASTM, ANSI, UL, CPSC.
  • Don't wear loose pants, clothing or long scarves while operating the machine — they could get caught in it.
  • Wear earplugs to protect your ears since snowblowers can get quite loud when they're on.
  • Make sure there's nothing in your path that could clog your snowblower, like welcome mats, toys or tree branches.
  • Make sure the engine of your snowblower is off and/or the unit is unplugged before dealing with a clog. 
  • Never use your hands to unclog the machine.
  • With electric models, use an outdoor extension chord and keep checking to make sure it's nowhere near the spinning part of the machine (called the auger).
  • Keep pets and children away from your snowblower while it's on.

To read the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to The Weather Channel website.
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