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Preventing Injuries While Clearing Snow

By: Vadim Goz, MD and Lali Sekhon, MD PhD MBA 

This article was adapted from OrthoInfo.

Snow removal goes beyond being a household chore—it can pose serious orthopedic injury risks and even strain your heart, especially if you don’t engage in regular exercise. These dangers are heightened if you don’t exercise caution during snow removal. 

In 2018 alone, over 137,000 individuals sought medical treatment in various healthcare settings for injuries sustained while shoveling or operating snowblowers, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Common injuries associated with snow removal activities include sprains and strains, particularly in the back and shoulders, as well as finger lacerations and amputations. 

 Here are safety guidelines for snow clearing: 

General Snow Clearing Tips 

  1. Appropriate Attire: Wear layered, water-repellent clothing that provides both insulation and ventilation. Ensure your head and hands are adequately covered, and opt for gloves or mittens that keep your hands warm, dry, and blister-free. Choose slip-resistant footwear to prevent falls.
  2. Early Start: Begin clearing snow early and frequently, especially during significant snowfalls. It’s best to commence when there’s a light snow covering to minimize the risk of injuries from handling densely packed, heavy snow.
  3. Visibility: Ensure unobstructed vision during snow removal. Avoid having hats or scarves block your sight and watch out for ice patches and uneven surfaces.
  4. Medical Consultation: If you have any medical conditions or aren’t accustomed to regular exercise, consult your doctor before engaging in snow shoveling or snow blowing. Consider hiring professional help for snow removal if necessary.

Snow Shoveling Tips

  1. Muscle Warm-Up: Shoveling is a physically demanding task. Prior to starting, warm up your muscles with light exercise for approximately 10 minutes.
  2. Moderate Pace: Snow shoveling and snow blowing are physically taxing activities. Take frequent breaks and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. If you experience chest pain or shortness of breath, halt the activity and seek immediate medical attention.
  3. Proper Equipment: Use a shovel that suits your height and strength. Avoid shovels that are excessively heavy or long for your capabilities. Position your hands on the tool’s grip to maximize leverage.
  4. Lifting Technique: Whenever possible, push snow rather than lifting it. If lifting is unavoidable, do so correctly by squatting with knees bent, back straight, and legs apart. Lift with your legs, not your waist. Scoop small amounts of snow onto the shovel and walk to where you intend to deposit it. Holding a shovel full of snow with outstretched arms places excessive weight on your spine. Avoid removing deep snow all at once, particularly when it’s wet and heavy; do it in smaller portions.
  5. Safe Handling: Refrain from tossing snow over your shoulder or to the side, as it requires a twisting motion that can strain your back.

Snowblowing Tips 

  1. Hands Off: Never insert your hands into the snowblower. In case of a snow jam, turn off the engine and wait for more than 5 seconds. Use a solid object to clear wet snow or debris from the chute. Beware of the motor and blade recoil after turning off the machine.
  2. Supervision: Don’t leave a running snow blower unattended. Switch off the engine if you need to step away from the machine.
  3. Safe Fueling: Add fuel before starting the snowblower and never do so while the engine is running or hot. Always refuel outdoors to avoid exposure to engine fumes. Operating the machine in an enclosed space is dangerous.
  4. Engine Precautions: The engine can become very hot; avoid contact with unprotected skin.
  5. Pull-Cord Safety: When starting a pull-cord-equipped machine, firmly grasp the cord and stand with feet apart. If the cord doesn’t move freely, don’t force it, as forcefully pulling a nonmoving cord can lead to upper body or back injuries.
  6. Power Cord Awareness: If using an electric snow blower, be mindful of the power cord’s location at all times. A severed cord or contact with the engine can result in electric shock.
  7. No Tampering: Do not remove safety devices, shields, or switches, and keep your hands and feet away from moving parts.
  8. Motor Recoil: Be cautious of the brief recoil of the motor and blades after turning off the machine.
  9. Child Safety: Never allow children to operate snow blowers, and keep those under 15 years of age away when the machines are in use.
  10. Machine Familiarity: Familiarize yourself with your snowblower by reading the instruction manual before use. Understand safety hazards and unique features. Never attempt repairs without consulting the manual.

By following these safety measures, you can clear snow more safely, reducing the risk of injuries and ensuring a secure snow removal process.