12/15/10 Snow can be fun to play in, but removing it can pose a risk to safety.  State health officials are urging Hoosiers to exercise caution when shoveling snow, using a snow blower and walking on snow and ice this winter.

Injuries can happen while shoveling snow, including sprains and strains, particularly in the back and shoulders.

“When working to remove snow, remember that this activity puts an extra strain on the heart. If you have a medical condition such as heart disease or high blood pressure or if you don’t get regular exercise, talk to your doctor first,” said Joan Duwve, M.D., medical director for injury prevention at the Indiana State Department of Health.  “Anytime you do heavy outdoor work this winter, dress appropriately and work slowly.  Take breaks as needed to warm up, drink plenty of fluids, and call 911 if you experience chest pain or shortness of breath.”

The good news is that shoveling snow can actually be good exercise if done correctly.  Here are some simple tips that can prevent injury when clearing the way:

  • Warm up by stretching and doing a few exercises before shoveling.
  • Avoid smoking or eating a large meal before shoveling.
  • Dress warmly in layers with a hat. Be sure to cover your neck.
  • Wear shoes or boots that have slip-resistant soles to avoid falls.
  • Plan before shoveling snow.  Shovel heavy snow in stages. Start by skimming off the snow from the top, and then remove the bottom layer.  Don’t overload the shovel.
  • Avoid a rush and allow enough time to do the work.  Follow a slow and steady pace and take frequent breaks to stand up and stretch.
  • Watch what you are shoveling/blowing.  Don’t let a hat or scarf block your vision.  Watch for ice patches and uneven surfaces.
  • Use a shovel that’s comfortable for your height and strength.  Don’t use a shovel that’s too heavy or too long for you.  Space your hands on the tool grip to increase your leverage.
  • Push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift, do it properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent, and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist.
  • Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side as it could stress your back.
  • Breathing cold air dehydrates the body, so drink water during breaks.

Operating a snow blower can also pose a hazard if the user isn’t careful.  Finger and hand lacerations and finger amputations can occur.  Take precaution when operating a snow blower by reading the instruction manual prior to using and becoming familiar with the specific safety hazards and unfamiliar features.

“Snow blowers, like any heavy duty equipment, need to be operated with caution,” said Duwve. “Never stick your hands in a snow blower if it becomes jammed, don’t leave the blower unattended with the engine running, and keep young children at a safe distance during operation.  If you use an electric snow blower, pay attention to where the cord is at all times.  And remember, stay away from the engine as this can cause serious burns.”

For more information about winter weather safety, including health tips and helpful links, visit the Indiana State Department of Health Website at www.in.gov/isdh/24414.htm.