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Friday, December 19, 2008

Ooooh, My Aching Back! Snow Shoveling Safety

Ah, it's that time of year again. "Tree tops glisten, and children listen, to hear sleigh bells in the snow..." Snow. Fun for some, work for others. As we get ready to clean our own sidewalks and driveways, and at school, send out our maintenance crews to clean off sidewalks and driveways we need to remember rules for safe work in the cold. Hazards abound. The obvious, ice and snow, creating slipping and falling hazards. Frigid weather creating cold injury hazards. And the not any less obvious, extra strain on our lungs, hearts, joints, and muscles as we engage in what sometimes seem to be endless battles against snow and ice. Another great newsletter I receive, EHS Today, offers some tips recommended by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) for making snow shoveling safer for us.

From the EHS Today newsletter:
AAOS offers the following tips to prevent injuries while shoveling and using a snow blower:
  1. Check with your doctor. Because this activity places high stress on the heart, speak with your physician first. If you have a medical condition or do not exercise regularly, consider hiring someone to remove the snow.
  2. Dress appropriately. Light, layered, water-repellent clothing provides both ventilation and insulation. It is also important to wear the appropriate head coverings, as well as mittens or gloves and thick, warm socks. Take a break if you feel yourself getting too hot or too cold.
  3. See what you are shoveling/snow blowing. Make sure that your hat or scarf does not block your vision. Watch for ice patches and uneven surfaces. Avoid falls by wearing shoes or boots that have slip-resistant soles.
  4. Clear snow early and often. Begin when a light covering of snow is on the ground to avoid trying to clear packed, heavy snow.

When shoveling:

  1. Warm up your muscles. Shoveling can be a vigorous activity. Before you begin, warm up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise.
  2. Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks and replenish fluids to prevent dehydration. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or other signs of a heart attack, seek emergency care.
  3. Use a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength. Do not use a shovel that is too heavy or too long for you. Consider buying a shovel that is specially designed to prevent too much stooping. Space your hands on the tool grip to increase your leverage.
  4. When possible, push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift, take small amounts of snow, and lift it with your legs: Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift by straightening your legs, without bending at the waist. Then walk to where you want to dump the snow; holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine.
  5. Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back.

When snow blowing:

  1. Never stick your hands or feet in the snow blower. If snow becomes too impacted, stop the engine and wait at least five seconds. Use a solid object to clear wet snow or debris from the chute. Beware of the recoil of the motor and blades after the machine has been turned off.
  2. Do not leave the snow blower unattended when it is running. Shut off the engine if you must walk away from the machine.
  3. Watch the snow blower cord. If you are operating an electric snow blower, be aware of where the power cord is at all times, so you do not trip and fall.
  4. Add fuel before starting the snow blower. Never add fuel when the engine is running or hot. Do not operate the machine in an enclosed area.
  5. Read the instruction manual. Prior to using a snow blower, read the instruction manual for specific safety hazards, unfamiliar features, and whenever attempting to repair or maintain the snow blower.

Visit for more tips on snow shoveling safety.

Happy Shoveling!

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