Whether it’s the first snowfall of the season or the last, there is a quiet beauty we can all enjoy as the snow serenely blankets our lawns and driveways. Until the time comes to pull out the shovels, drag out the snowblower and make numerous trips up and down the driveway and sidewalks to clear away wet, sometimes very heavy, snow. Regardless of how old, healthy or fit a person is, snow removal can result in serious injury, heart attack or other cardiac events. So, before you head out to dig out this winter, make sure you’ve followed these safety precautions.

Snowblower Safety

Proper maintenance and use of your snowblower is key to making your snow removal easier, faster and injury-free! 

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), most snowblower injuries occur when trying to clear the discharge chute or auger of clogged snow and debris. Thousands of injuries—ranging from hand lacerations to finger amputations—occur yearly. Avoid these types of accidents by heeding the following recommendations from the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH). And if you do suffer a snowblower injury, seek medical attention immediately.

  • Work at a brisk pace to prevent clogs. The faster the blades and pace, the less the snow will stick. If heavy, wet snow is anticipated, consider snowblowing several times during the snowfall. Heavy snow is more likely to clog.
  • If a clog occurs:
    • Turn the snowblower off and wait until the blades completely stop rotating.
    • Do not use your hand to clear away the snow or debris. Instead, use a stick or broom handle. Some snowblowers come with an attached tool for cleaning out clogs.
    • NEVER put your hand down the chute or around the blades and keep your hands and feet away from all moving parts. The blades can move, even if the machine is off.
    • Keep all shields in place. DO NOT REMOVE the safety devices on the machine.
  • Additional snowblower risks and ways to avoid them:
    • Carbon monoxide poisoning. Do not leave a gas-powered snowblower running in an enclosed area.
    • Fire. Never add gasoline to a running or hot engine.
    • Eye injury. Wear goggles or glasses, especially if you are unclogging the machine.
    • Slips and falls. Wear boots with traction to avoid slipping.
    • Accidents. Stay focused. Do not drink alcohol or take narcotics before using your snowblower.
    • Child injuries. Never allow children to operate or be near the machine while in use, and never leave it unattended.

Shoveling Safely

Before you bundle up to attack that snow drift, determine if you have any of the following risk factors. If so, seek help for your snow removal.

Heart attack risk factors.

The American Heart Association (AHA) warns that shoveling can lead to an increased risk for heart attack, if you:

  • Have an existing heart condition.
  • Have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
  • Are mostly sedentary (not physically active on a regular basis).

Avoiding muscle strains, back injuries and more.

Follow these safety tips offered by the AHA and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS):

  • Don’t eat a heavy meal right before or after shoveling. This can put an extra load on your heart.   
  • Dress for warmth but don’t get overheated. Dress in layers of light and water-repellent clothing that provides both ventilation and insulation. 
  • Warm up your muscles. Shoveling is a physical workout, so warm up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise. 
  • Take frequent breaks. Regular “rest stops” can prevent overstressing your heart.
  • Avoid dehydration. Drink water during your breaks. 
  • Choose a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength—then use it properly. Space your hands on the tool grip to increase your leverage. Lift smaller amounts more frequently, instead of shoveling huge amounts in one heave.
  • Lift properly to protect your back. Push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift, squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist. In addition:
    • Scoop small amounts of snow and walk to where you want to dump it. 
    • Do not hold a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched, as this will put too much weight on your spine. 
    • Never remove deep snow all at once—especially when it’s wet and heavy.
  • Don’t throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. The twisting motion will strain your back.
  • Consider a snowblower! If you are at risk for heart attack or back injury, a snowblower may be a safer option.

Lastly, when you see neighbors out tackling snow with you, share these safety tips. With everyone taking care, this year’s winter wonderland can stay wonderful!

To hear more from Dr. Todisco speak about snowblower and snow shoveling safety, listen to his December 20, 2022 interview on WJFF Radio Catskill.

Victor Todisco, MD
By Victor Todisco, MD
Vice Chair, Garnet Health Diagnostic Imaging Department

Dr. Todisco is the Vice Chair of the Garnet Health Diagnostic Imaging Department. He received his medical degree from SUNY Downstate Medical School. He completed his residency in Pediatrics (Board Certified) at Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, and his residency in Radiology (Board Certified) at Jacobi/Montefiore Medical Center. He completed his Fellowship in Pediatric Radiology at Miami Children's Hospital.

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