Shoveling snow can pose some health risks
With the area in a blizzard warning through at least 6 p.m. today and snow accumulations of six to nine inches predicted, many Central Iowans will be out shoveling snow off their sidewalks and driveways in the coming days.
However, while out removing snow, people need to be aware of the health and safety risks the chore presents. According to the National Safety Council, snow shoveling is responsible for thousands of injuries and as many as 100 deaths each year.
“The problem is they go from not doing anything, which the average person doesn’t exercise on a regular basis,” said Dr. Dan Cole, Webster County medical examiner and physician. “They get overly ambitious because they think they’re going to do their whole driveway in two seconds and they run down their driveway shoveling like crazy and that puts a lot of strain on the heart, primarily, and the blood vessels.”
Cole said every few years he has to pronounce an individual dead who had died of cardiac arrest or of a stroke while shoveling snow.
“Dress warm and go slow,” he said. “Do it in steps. Shovel for a while and then go inside and rest for a little bit before going back out.”
Medical emergencies like heart attack and stroke aren’t the only problems snow removal can cause.
“We see people with sore backs and muscles,” Cole said. “If you fall down, you can obviously get broken bones. With the actual shoveling, you get sore muscles in your neck and back and your core muscles feel sore.”
Cole said it is mostly older folks who experience problems while shoveling, but that doesn’t mean younger people are invincible, either. And it’s not only shoveling snow that can be dangerous.
“If you’re using a hydraulic or tractor or snowblower, you have to be really careful you don’t get yourself injured by them, too,” Cole said.
He said to never reach into any part of the machine while it’s running.
“A lot of people will clean the snow out of the snowblower and they think they can just knock it loose with their glove and then that doesn’t work,” he said. “They knock it loose with the glove, but then they leave a few fingers with the glove.”
The National Safety Council has recommendations on how to shovel safely:
∫ Do not shovel after eating or while smoking
∫ Take it slow and stretch out before you begin
∫ Shovel only fresh, powdery snow, as it is lighter
∫ Push the snow rather than lifting it
∫ If you do lift it, use a small shovel or only partially fill the shovel
∫ Lift with your legs, not your back
∫ Do not work to the point of exhaustion
∫ Know the signs of a heart attack and stop immediately and call 911 if you’re experiencing any of them
Cole also recommended that those who will be outside doing snow removal should make sure they inform another person and have them check in on them periodically. This can help in the event of a medical emergency to get care right away.