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Snow removal is more than just another necessary household chore. All that bending and heavy lifting can put you at serious risk for injury. Snow removal can be especially dangerous if you do not exercise regularly.
According to the 2009 US Consumer Product Safety Commission:
- Approximately 16,500 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries that happened while shoveling or removing ice and snow manually
- More than 6,000 people were injured using snowblowers
The most common injuries associated with snow removal include sprains and strains, particularly in the back and shoulders, as well as lacerations and finger amputations.
- Check with your doctor. Because this activity places high stress on the heart, you should always speak with your doctor before shoveling or snow blowing. If you have a medical condition or do not exercise regularly, consider hiring someone to remove the snow.
- 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. Avoid falls by wearing shoes or boots that have slip-resistant soles.
- Start early. Try to clear snow early and often. Begin shoveling/snowblowing when a light covering of snow is on the ground to avoid dealing with packed, heavy snow.
- Clear vision. Be sure you can see what you are shoveling/snowblowing. Do not let a hat or scarf block your vision. Watch for ice patches and uneven surfaces.
- Warm-up your muscles. Shoveling can be a vigorous activity. Before you begin this physical workout, warm-up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise.
- Pace yourself. Snow shoveling and snow blowing are aerobic activities. Take frequent breaks and prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or other signs of a heart attack, stop the activity and seek emergency care.
- Proper equipment. 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. Space your hands on the tool grip to increase your leverage.
- Proper lifting. Try to push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift, do it properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent, and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist. Scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel and walk to where you want to dump it. Holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine. Never remove deep snow all at once. Do it in pieces.
- Safe technique. Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back.
- Never stick your hands in the snowblower! If snow jams the snowblower, stop the engine and wait more than 5 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.
- Proper supervision. Do not leave the snow blower unattended when it is running. Shut off the engine if you must walk away from the machine.
- Safe fueling. 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.
- Avoid the engine. Stay away from the engine. It can become very hot and burn unprotected flesh.
- Watch the snowblower cord. If you are operating an electric snow blower, be aware of where the power cord is at all times.
- No tampering. Do not remove safety devices, shields, or guards on switches, and keep hands and feet away from moving parts.
- Watch for motor recoil. Beware of the brief recoil of motor and blades that occurs after the machine has been turned off.
- Keep children away. Never let children operate snowblowers. Keep children 15 years of age and younger away when snowblowers are in use.
- Understand your machine. Read the instruction manual prior to using a snowblower. Be familiar with the specific safety hazards and unfamiliar features. Do not attempt to repair or maintain the snowblower without reading the instruction manual.
Source: US Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS 2009 data and estimates) based on injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
9400 West Higgins Road
Rosemont, IL 60018