The Scoop on Snow Shoveling Safety




It happens every winter … snow falls, usually leaving piles of the white stuff to clear from your sidewalks and driveway. Consider the following before you grab your shovel after a major snowfall.

The good news is that 15 minutes of snow shoveling counts as moderate physical activity. We all should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity of some kind on most days of the week. Brisk walking or social dancing is other ways to fit in moderate physical activity during cold winter months.

The bad news is that researchers have reported an increase in the number of fatal heart attacks among snow shovelers after heavy snowfalls. This rise may be due to the sudden demand that shoveling places on an individual’s heart. Snow shoveling may cause a quick increase in heart rate and blood pressure. One study determined that after only two minutes of shoveling, sedentary men’s’ heart rates rose to levels higher than those normally recommended during aerobic exercise.

Shoveling may be vigorous activity even for healthy college-aged students. A study performed by researchers at North Dakota State University determined that, based on heart rate, shoveling was a moderately intense activity for college-aged subjects most of the time but was vigorous activity during about one-third of their shoveling time of 14 minutes.

When shoveling, it’s important to avoid back strain. The average shovel (loaded with 16 pounds of snow) ends up moving 192 pounds of snow, if you load your shovel about 12 times a minute. That’s almost 2,000 pounds being lifted in just over 10 minutes!

Shoveling can be made more difficult by the weather. Cold air makes it harder to work and breathe, which adds some extra strain on the body. There also is the risk for hypothermia, a decrease in body temperature, if one is not dressed correctly for the weather conditions.

Who should think twice about shoveling snow?

Those most at risk for a heart attack include:

  • Anyone who has already had a heart attack.
  • Individuals with a history of diagnosed heart disease.
  • Those with extremely high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels.
  • Individuals leading a sedentary lifestyle.

Should you rush out and buy a snow blower?

Not necessarily. Not everyone who shovels snow is going to have a heart attack. Snow shoveling can be good exercise when performed correctly and with safety in mind.

Also consider back safety when shoveling snow. Even if you exercise regularly and are not at risk for heart disease, shoveling improperly could lead to a strained back. If you’ve been inactive for months and have certain risk factors, use some common sense before taking on the task of snow shoveling.

Fluffy Snow Removal

  • This snow removal technique allows children to participate and help their parents in the outdoor duties of the winter season. Provide a child’s size shovel and have them help you remove fluffy snow. PUSH rather than lift this fluffy snow to remove this type of snow. Exerts less strain on your body.

 Compact Snow Removal

  • Compact snow is a different type of snow. It is more dense in nature, and heavier than recent snow. This is when having a snow plow device comes in handy. Many people strain their backs and pull muscles when attempting to shovel compact snow. Borrowing a snow plow device from a neighbor or purchasing one from a hardware store helps you clear your driveway and walkways.

Black Ice Removal

  • One of the most dangerous forms of snow is black ice. This environmental hazard occurs when it rains, or when snow melts and freezes again. Because it freezes at such a fast rate, air bubbles that usually form underneath never develop. This is what makes it invisible and difficult to detect. To remove black ice, wear shoes that provide exceptional traction. Pour magnesium chloride or ice melt on places where black ice has formed; this helps you stabilize your balance while getting rid of the black ice. Take a shovel and crack the ice with one edge of the shovel. Pick up the broken ice with the shovel and place it inside a medium bucket. Have your children move these pieces of ice to the outer corners of your yard.

Black Ice Prevention

  • To prevent slip-and-fall accidents caused from black ice, it is imperative to take action. Pour some magnesium chloride or ice melt in a bucket. This works great at getting rid of any areas likely to form black ice. Fill another bucket with regular dirt and give it to your child, and provide a little shovel or scooper. Inspect the area for any black ice and apply the magnesium chloride before allowing your child to pour the dirt on the ground. Have them throw some of the dirt on part of the driveway, while you tackle walkways and the sidewalk.

A Pile of Snow Shoveling Tips

Be heart healthy and back friendly while shoveling this winter with these tips:

  • If you are inactive and have a history of heart trouble, talk to your doctor before you take on the task of shoveling snow.
  • Avoid caffeine or nicotine before beginning. These are stimulants, which may increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict. This places extra stress on the heart.
  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is just as big an issue in cold winter months as it is in the summer.
  • Dress in several layers so you can remove a layer as needed.
  • Spray the snow shovel blade with a environmentally friendly lubricant, such as Pam cooking spray, to help snow slide off easier
  • Warm up your muscles before shoveling, by walking for a few minutes or marching in place. Stretch the muscles in your arms and legs, because warm muscles will work more efficiently and be less likely to be injured.
  • Pick the right shovel for you. A smaller blade will require you to lift less snow, putting less strain on your body.
  • Begin shoveling slowly to avoid placing a sudden demand on your heart. Pace yourself and take breaks as needed.
  • Avoid quick jerky motions;
    Switch the shovel periodically from one hand to the other.

  • Protect your back from injury by lifting correctly. Stand with your feet about hip width for balance and keep the shovel close to your body. Bend from the knees (not the back) and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow. Avoid twisting movements. If you need to move the snow to one side reposition your feet to face the direction the snow will be going.
  • Most importantly — listen to your body. Stop if you feel pain!
  • Lastly, if you have a layer of ice underneath the snow pack, you may be better off to leave the snow on top which provides a less of a slip hazard.

Safety is as simple as ABC – Always Be Careful!


Information provided by the CDC and North Dakota State University


Today’s Blog post is courtesy of Ken Oswald

Safety and Security Manager for Plateau