Snow shoveling and snow blowing can be unpleasant winter chores, but for some those chores can also be dangerous or even fatal. In 2018, more than 137,000 people were treated in emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, and clinics for injuries suffered while shoveling or using snowblowers, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). What’s more, a study by Nationwide Children’s Hospital found an average of 100 people die each year in the U.S. while shoveling, mainly from heart attacks.
Sudden exertion and cold temperatures can increase the risk of heart attack, particularly for people who do not exercise regularly. Shoveling hundreds of pounds of snow or pushing a heavy snow blower can put a big strain on the heart. In addition, cold weather makes your heart work harder to keep your body warm, so your heart rate and blood pressure may increase. The cold can also cause arteries to constrict, decreasing blood flow to the heart. For those reasons, seniors and people with certain medical conditions such as hypertension, heart disease or diabetes should not shovel snow or use a snow blower without consulting with their doctor.
The most common injuries associated with snow shoveling are bumps, bruises, cuts and broken bones caused by overexertion and slips and falls on ice. The lower back is the most frequently injured body part.
Cuts, fractures and amputations are the most common snowblower injuries that occur when the operator reaches a hand into the machine to clear a snow clog. Fingers and hands are the most commonly injured body parts.
The following tips can help prevent accidents and can keep you stay safe while clearing snow.
- Keep your hands and feet away from all moving parts. Hand injuries typically occur when people try to clear snow from the discharge chute or at the auger/collector. To safely clear a clog, the CPSC says you should turn off the snow blower and then use a clearing tool or a long stick, such as a broom handle, to clear the clog.
- Never start a gas-powered snow blower inside a garage, shed or other enclosed area — even with the door open — because it puts you at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Fill the gas tank outdoors when the machine is off. If you have to refuel, turn off the engine and allow it to cool completely. Adding gas to a hot/running engine could spark a fire.
- If you are using an electric-powered snow blower, be aware of the power cord. Keep it safely away from the spinning auger.
- Do not let children use a snow blower. In fact, keep all people and pets away from the area you are clearing.
- Do not leave the snow blower unattended when it is running. If you have to step away — even for a moment — turn off the engine.
Snow Shoveling Safety
- Warm up your muscles. Shoveling is an aerobic activity, and as with any physical activity, it is a good idea to start by stretching.
- Find the right snow shovel. Using a shovel that is too long or too heavy increases your risk of injury. An ergonomic shovel may prevent strain on your back. A small shovel may stop you from trying to lift too much snow.
- Plan to shovel multiple times during the storm, especially if a large amount of snow is forecast. If you wait until the snow stops falling, the snow on the ground will be packed and heavier, increasing your chances of injury.
- Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
- Use proper shoveling technique to save your back. It is best to push the snow instead of lifting it. If you do lift, be sure to lift with your legs (stand with your feet apart, knees bent and back straight). Scoop small amounts of snow. Dump the snow in front of you. Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side because the twisting motion is bad for your back.