When the driveway and walkways are coated in a thick blanket of snow, it is time to for what some consider to be a dreaded chore. While you may be thankful for the snow blower in the garage, it is not without its share of danger if used improperly. Before you tackle the first snowfall of the season, take some time to read these safety snow removal tips to help avoid any potential injuries.
Snow shoveling can lead to a number of health risks for many people, from back injuries to heart attacks. The mix of cold temperatures and physical exertion increases the workload on the heart,¹ which may increase the risk of a heart attack for some. According to the American Heart Association, even walking through heavy, wet snow can place strain on your heart.
The following tips can help keep you safer when you set out to shovel:
Warm up. Warm your muscles before heading out to shovel by doing some light movements, such as bending side to side or walking in place.
Push rather than lift. Pushing the snow with the shovel instead of lifting can help reduce the strain on your body. When lifting snow, bend your knees and use your legs when possible.
Choose your shovel wisely. Ergonomically-designed shovels can help reduce the amount of bending you have to do.
Lighten your load. Consider using a lighter-weight plastic shovel instead of a metal one to help decrease the weight being lifted.
Hit the pause button. Pace yourself and be sure to take frequent breaks. Consider taking a break after 20 to 30 minutes of shoveling, especially when the snow is wet.
Consider multiple trips. Consider shoveling periodically throughout the storm to avoid having to move large amounts of snow at once.
Keep up with snowfall. Try to shovel snow shortly after it falls, when it is lighter and fluffier. The longer snow stays on the ground, the wetter it can become. Wet snow is heavier and harder to move.
Wear layers. Dress in layers and remove them as you get warm to help maintain a comfortable body temperature.
Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated while shoveling.
A national study² found that the most common shoveling-related injuries were to the lower back. Cardiac-related injuries account for only 7% of all injuries, but they were the most serious in nature. If you do not exercise on a regular basis, are middle-aged or older, or have any health conditions, such as heart disease or high blood pressure, you should check with your doctor before doing any strenuous shoveling. Consider using a snow blower or snow removal service as an alternative means of snow removal.
Here are some important snow blower safety considerations for the next storm.
Before the Storm
Before it snows, remove any objects from your driveway that might get damaged by the snow blower or might become projectiles if thrown by the blower, such as rocks. If your snow blower is gas-powered, make sure you have enough fuel. Store and transport all fuels in approved containers.
It is also a good idea to test your snow blower to ensure it is in good working order and to have replacement parts on hand, as they can be difficult to obtain in the middle of a winter storm. Only use proper replacement parts such as shear pins, for example, which are designed to break if the snow blower jams, thus preventing further damage to your machine.
While Clearing Snow
Always start your snow blower outside, never in the garage, in case of fire, explosion or carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. During the clearing process, wear bright or reflective clothing and be aware of traffic, especially near the end of your driveway. You also may want to wear protective eyewear.
Should your machine get jammed, never put your hand in the auger―the snow blower retains stored energy, even after it has been turned off, and the auger could start moving automatically once the jam has cleared. Depending on the object, use a shovel or rake handle to clear the blockage. Also, do not override interlocks or any other features.
If you have an electric-powered snow thrower, choose your path wisely to keep the cord safe. You will want to work away from the cord. Always use extension cords intended for outside use and equipped with a grounding prong. Plug them into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to help protect against shock hazards.
If you have a gas-powered snow blower, shut it down and allow it to cool before refueling. Gasoline can ignite if spilled on hot engine parts. Never try to refuel a snow blower while it is running.
Storing Your Snow Blower
Your snow blower’s temperature rises significantly while it is clearing snow. After using the snow blower, give it a chance to cool down before putting it away. To prevent a fire, avoid letting any still-hot parts of your snow blower come into contact with combustibles in your garage.
Snow and Ice Removal Requirements
Snow and ice not only pose a potential risk to you but also to others. As a property owner, you are responsible for making a reasonable effort to keep public walking areas around your property clear of snow and ice. Pre-treating your walkways and other paved surfaces with an anti-icing product can help make snow and ice removal easier.
Consider stocking up on ice melt in advance, as it sometimes sells out during long winters. You can store unused ice melt in an airtight container, out of reach from children and pets. Be aware that rock salt can damage brick, stone, asphalt and concrete walkways.