Keeping driveways and walkways clear is essential for winter safety, but did you know that thousands of people end up in the emergency room every year due to injuries acquired while shoveling? Muscle strains, falls, and even heart attacks are not uncommon when people approach winter yard work without taking the proper safety measures.
If You Shouldn’t Shovel, Don’t! Shoveling is a strenuous workout. If you have a heart condition or have been warned off vigorous exercise, avoid it. Consider investing in a snow blower – or in a neighbour who owns one.
Treat Shoveling as Exercise. Warm up before you start. Stretches and a quick walk around the block will get your muscles and cardio-vascular system ready to work. Don’t drink alcohol or eat a heavy meal before tackling the snow, and stay hydrated while you’re outside.
Dress Appropriately. Dress in layers and cover extremities. You might take things off as you work, but it’s better to start the job warm so you don’t expend valuable energy fighting off the cold. Wear warm boots with non-slips soles or crampons to avoid slipping.
Use Correct Form. Choose a shovel appropriate to the size of your body to reduce the chance of strain. Whenever possible, push the snow, rather than lifting it; larger scoop-style shovels are good for this. If you do need to lift a full shovel, keep your back straight and bend your knees, squatting down with your legs apart. Do not throw snow over your shoulder. Instead, with your arms close to your body, carry your shovel to where you want to dump the snow. Slow, deliberate movements are less likely to cause injury.
Less is More. Instead of waiting for a heavy snow fall to finish, do the job in several smaller shifts. Lifting less snow at a time and taking more breaks will keep you from over-exerting yourself.
De-Ice Strategically. Instead of hacking at solid ice with a shovel, weaken it first with a de-icing agent, then break it up and scrape it away. If you must use rock salt, do so sparingly: it harms plants and contaminates the water table. Plus, it only works at temperatures about -9°C. Chemical de-icers are an effective alternative, but you should choose them carefully: they are also temperature-dependent and sometimes toxic to pets. You can also use sand, fine gravel, or birdseed to increase traction with no environmental impact.
Stay Alert. If you’re working close to the street, keep your eyes and ears open for plows and other vehicles navigating slippery roads. Wear lights or reflectors when working at night. And watch out for neighbours who may not know these winter safety tips! They might need your help in the event of an emergency.