Snow can be hazardous to your health


Use caution – and the right equipment – when shoveling.


Snow can be a beautiful thing…until you have to shovel it.

Every year, hospitals treat patients with back injuries, muscle strains and even heart attacks caused by shoveling snow. While the risk is probably low for most healthy people, those who are older, out of shape or who have pre-existing medical conditions such as heart problems or asthma may need to be cautious and should consult their doctors before exerting themselves.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you arm yourself to battle winter.


Protect your heart and your back

  • Follow any restrictions your doctor recommends. The combination of physical exertion and severe cold temperatures can increase the workload on your heart.
  • Warm up your muscles before you shovel, just as an athlete would warm up before physical exertion.
  • Move more, light shovel loads rather than fewer, heavy loads and, where possible, push the snow instead of lifting it.
  • Keep ahead of the snow. It’s less stressful to remove 2 or 3 inches at a time rather than wait to remove a 6-inch snowfall all at once.
  • Follow guidelines to avoid cold stress and stay alert to symptoms of hypothermia: drop in body temperature, shivering, slurred speech or confusion.
  • Dress appropriately for the weather, with footwear that won’t slip. Dress in layers for ventilation and insulation, with a top layer that repels water. Don’t overdress.
  • Use a lightweight, strong shovel with a handle long enough to prevent you from bending.
  • Pace yourself; take frequent breaks.
  • Stop and drink water to prevent dehydration.

More information

The American Heart Association is a national voluntary health agency to help reduce disability and death from cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Read about Warning Signs of a Heart Attack on their website.

The Spine Institute at The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati provides tips to protect your back when shoveling snow.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (who would know more about snow than our neighbors up north?) offers a number of tips for shoveling snow (or as they spell it, “shovelling”) including ergonomics and how to choose a shovel.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration also identifies shoveling snow as a potential hazard for some people.

This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article.


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