Safety Tips for Shoveling Snow This Winter

If you’ve ever shoveled snow from a sidewalk or driveway, chances are you know the sensation of feeling sore afterwards. Studies have shown that shoveling is more than a demanding workout – it’s behind roughly 100 deaths per year.

According to the American Heart Association, the exertion involved in moving heavy snow could result in a heart attack, particularly for individuals who aren’t regularly active. Cold temperatures can also have a negative effect on heart rate, blood pressure and clotting.

A 2017 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that hospitalizations for heart attacks increase when snowfall is eight inches or higher. Even those without a history of cardiovascular disease can experience complications.

Beyond the heart, shoveling snow also places strain on the upper back, elbows and shoulders. Annually, over 100,000 individuals in the United States seek emergency medical care for injuries related to snow removal. While a snow blower may involve less physical exertion, this machine comes with the risk of carbon monoxide exposure and other injuries.  

Despite your method of snow removal, being in the cold for an extended period of time can put you at risk for frostbite and hypothermia. Permanent damage to the fingers, toes and nose could result. To stay safe through winter, keep these tips in mind before shoveling.

Prepare Ahead of Time

Never plan to shovel snow right after a big meal or a few alcoholic beverages. Doing so places more stress on your heart and could alter your perception of the weather.

Before heading outside, warm up the muscles and joints as you would for a workout, with light exercises and stretches.

Dress Appropriately

During winter, you shouldn’t head outdoors in a lightweight jacket. To reduce hypothermia risks, wear multiple water-resistant layers and cover all extremities. Put on gloves, heavy socks, a scarf and hat that covers your ears.

Along with warmth, don’t forget about traction: Wear boots with slip-resistant soles and a lugged surface. If icy patches are a concern, strap on a pair of ice cleats.

Work in Shifts

Either break the project into sections, each separated by a break to rehydrate, or shovel periodically during a storm to avoid lifting dense, wet snow.

Also consider the size of your shovel. Although you might feel like you’re doing more with a larger shovel, you’re lifting more at once, which can quickly tire you out. Instead, consider using a smaller tool or only fill part of a large shovel before lifting.

If the snow is light, consider pushing it to the sides of the driveway, rather than making a pile. As soon as you start feeling winded, stop for the day or ask someone else for help.

Watch Your Form

To prevent back and muscle injuries, watch your form as you shovel. Start from your legs, bending at the knees rather than the waist to protect your back. Avoid lifting and tossing the snow, which requires more physical exertion.

Look for Signs

Beyond feeling exhausted, get medical attention if you:

  • Notice chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Feel pressure, pain or discomfort in your upper body, including your jaw and back
  • Feel nauseous or lightheaded
  • Notice skin that is red, white or yellow-gray with a waxy or hard texture
  • Feel pain or numbness in your extremities
  • Experience confusion
  • Have slurred speech
  • Experience leg stiffness and shivering

If you start feeling soreness in your back, arms or shoulders, stop for the day to give your muscles some relief, instead of pushing on.

Be Careful with a Snow Blower

Cardiovascular issues don’t disappear if you use a snow blower, especially when you’re moving through heavy, dense precipitation. The Consumer Product Safety Commission receives roughly 18,000 reports each year of medical visits related to snow blower usage. To stay safe while using a snow blower, never:

  • Attempt to clear a jam while the snow blower is turned on.
  • Stick your hand inside the snow blower, as the blades can cut or sever a finger. Turn the snow blower off, wait for the blades to stop and use a stick to remove the jam.
  • Turn on a snow blower in an enclosed space, like a garage or shed, due to the risk of carbon monoxide exposure. Instead, add fuel outdoors before you turn it on.
  • Leave a snow blower turned on and unattended.

In the event you experience snow-related property damage this season, do you have enough homeowner’s insurance coverage? To review your policy, contact us today.