As Canadians weathering cold, snowy winters, most of us are all too familiar with the arduous, strenuous job of shovelling snow. It can be hard work and whether you shovel at work or at home, there are some tips you should consider to protect yourself from the hazards that can go along with the task: cold exposure; fatigue; muscular strains; back injury and more serious injury such as a heart attack.
1. Fit for the job? If you are unaccustomed to shovelling, or if you're not in good physical shape, shovelling snow can be a strain on your heart and back. If you are older, overweight or have a history of back or heart problems, you should avoid the task altogether and delegate it to someone else, or use a snow-blower to clear the snow.
2. Warm up. As with any exercise, consult with your doctor to ensure you are fit enough for this physically demanding activity. Before you begin shovelling, do warm-up stretches and flexing exercises to loosen up the muscles and prepare them for the job ahead.
3. Lighten the load with the right shovel. A snow shovel should be lightweight, about 1.5 kg or a little over 3 lbs, and the blade shouldn't be too large. Otherwise your load will be too heavy, putting too much stress on your heart and back. The handle should be long enough so that you don't have to stoop to shovel and the grip should be made of plastic or wood — metal gets too cold. As a general guideline, the shovel (blade plus handle) should be elbow height when standing upright.
4. Bundle up. Wear several layers of warm lightweight clothing that is easy and comfortable to move in. The inner layer should be fishnet or thermal underwear that allows perspiration to escape from the skin surface. Make sure your head (especially your ears), feet and hands are well covered. Your winter boots should be warm, water-resistant and high-cut, and provide good traction. Gloves should be light and flexible and give you a good grip. If it is really cold, wear something over your mouth. And do not shovel at all if the temperature drops below -40°C, or below -25° to -30°C when it is windy.
5. Pace - don't race. Shovelling snow in heavy-duty clothing can be as strenuous as weightlifting. You may want to get the job over with as fast as you can, but it is better to keep moving and work at a steady pace. A recommended rate for continuous shovelling is usually around 15 scoops per minute. Shovelling is going to make you sweat and, if you stop, you could get a chill. The trick is to shovel efficiently without becoming fatigued.
6. Push - don't lift. Push the snow rather than lift it. If you must throw it, take only as much snow as you can easily lift. And remember, the wetter the snow, the heavier it is.
7. Face - don't twist. Turn your feet to the direction you're throwing — don't twist at the waist. Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side.
8. Get the scoop. Consider using a snow scoop to push the snow instead of lifting. The scoop helps you to move snow with less effort by riding up over the snow to allow you to move it without ever having to lift it.
9. Rest and recover. Take frequent breaks and drink some warm non-alcoholic fluids. In extreme conditions, such as very cold and windy weather, 15 minutes of shovelling should be followed by 15 minutes of rest.
10. Find out more about safe shovelling. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety's OSH Answers has more information about shovelling snow in general, the ergonomics of shovelling snow and working in the cold.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) is Canada's national resource for the advancement of workplace health and safety. CCOHS promotes the total well being — physical, psychosocial and mental health — of working Canadians by providing information, training, education and management systems and solutions that support health and safety programs and the prevention of injury and illness.