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  • Writer's pictureArwen Rasmussen

Snow Removal Safety Tips

By the GWAAR Legal Services Team

As we approach this very long Wisconsin winter, it is important to remember some tips to keep you safe when shoveling or using a snowblower to remove snow. During winter, there is always a risk of slipping and falling on ice. It is especially dangerous when that ice is hidden underneath freshly-fallen snow. Shoveling heavy snow can also cause back, shoulder, knee, and other orthopedic injuries.

Additionally, shoveling or pushing a snow blower, can cause a sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate, and the cold air can cause constriction of the blood vessels and decrease oxygen to the heart. All these work together to increase the work of the heart and can trigger a potentially fatal heart attack.

Safety tips to help prevent falls & orthopedic injuries:

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. Watch for black ice and ice under freshly-fallen snow, and “walk like a penguin” until you are sure that the surface where you are walking is not icy.

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.

Warm up your muscles. Shoveling can be a vigorous activity. Before you begin, warm up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise.

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.

Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back.

Safety tips to help prevent heart attacks:

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.

Talk to your doctor about an aspirin regimen or ask your doctor about taking a low dose of aspirin before you shovel.

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. Cover your mouth to help prevent breathing cold air. Take a break if you feel yourself getting too hot or too cold.

Clear snow early and often. Begin when a light covering of snow is on the ground to avoid trying to clear packed, heavy snow. However, avoid shoveling immediately after you awaken as most heart attacks occur early in the morning when blood is more prone to clotting. Wait for at least 30 minutes and warm up your muscles before starting by walking for a few minutes or marching in place.

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.

Do not eat a heavy meal before or soon after shoveling because blood gets diverted from the heart to the stomach and can put extra strain on the heart.

Do not drink coff ee or smoke for at least one hour before or one hour after shoveling or during breaks. These are stimulants and elevate your blood pressure and heart rate.

Do not drink alcohol before or immediately after shoveling. Alcohol can increase a person’s sensation of warmth and may cause you to underestimate the extra strain your body is under in the cold.

Watch for warning signs of a heart attack: lightheadedness, dizziness, being short of breath, or if you have tightness or burning in chest, neck, arms or back. If you think you are having a heart attack, call 911.

Safety tips for using a snowblower:

Never stick your hands or feet in the snow blower. If snow becomes too impacted, stop the engine and wait at least fi ve 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 .

Do not leave the snow blower unattended when it is running. Shut off the engine if you must walk away from the machine.

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.

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.

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.

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