Snow season in Colorado has finally begun. That means it’s time for skiing, school delays and, of course, shoveling. Whether you’re removing snow at work or at home, you need to do it carefully. Each year, 28,000 people nationwide end up in the emergency room for treatment of shoveling-related injuries, most commonly back pain, cuts and fractures.
Understanding the potential dangers of snow removal reduces your chances of getting hurt. Share this information with your employees to keep them safe as well.
How to shovel snow safely
Before you begin shoveling, warm up. Do some light exercises or walk around the block. Arch your back. Cold, tight muscles stand a greater chance of strain than do warm, relaxed ones.
Wear footwear with an aggressive tread so you're less likely to slip.
Use a snow shovel with an ergonomic handle, which helps keep your back more upright as you shovel. Lighter plastic blades put less strain on your spine than metal ones do, and a smaller shovel prevents you from shoveling more weight than your back can support.
Grip the shovel ergonomically. Place hands at least a foot apart, increasing your leverage.
For light snowfalls, to lessen the strain on your back, push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift, don’t fully extend your arms, and carry the weight in your legs, not your back. Squat to shovel a small load, and avoid bending at your waist.
Instead of throwing heavy snow, hold the snow load close to your body, carry it to a spot and dump it. Never throw snow over your shoulder.
Take breaks throughout your shoveling to stretch your arms and legs. Alternate between left-handed and right-handed shoveling. Remember, this isn’t a race. You can go slow. If you feel pain, stop. Seek help if you need it.
How to operate a snowblower properly
Snowblowers offer a convenient and less physical way to move snow. But when misused, they, too, can cause harm — roughly 5,000 people annually suffer injuries from snowblowers that land them in the ER. A majority of those occur when people clear snow by hand from the discharge chute. Turn off the engine when the machine becomes jammed, and use a stick, never your hand, to clear out snow.
Never run the snowblower inside; doing so can cause carbon monoxide buildup. Only add fuel to the machine when its engine is cold and it’s parked outside in a well-ventilated area.
Heart attacks and shoveling snow: Understand the risks
The American Heart Association cautions that “many people may face an increased risk of a heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest after shoveling heavy snow.” A study by the AHA found less-fit individuals are more at risk of heart attack from shoveling snow, a vigorous activity that can raise heart rates beyond the optimal 85% maximal rate. Another study found an average of nearly 100 people die each year due to cardiac arrest suffered while shoveling snow.
Know the signs of a heart attack. They go beyond chest discomfort and include:
- Shortness of breath.
- A cold sweat.
Snow shoveling can be a great workout, and many people enjoy it. We offer additional information on winter weather safety on our Resources page. You can also consult the websites of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Safety Council to learn more.
Pinnacol Assurance assumes no responsibility for management or control of customer safety activities. Please ensure your business meets the requirements of all federal, state, and local laws, regulations, or ordinances related to workplace safety.