Shovelling, snowfalls and living in Canada go hand-in-hand, and unless you live in a condo, pay a snow removal company or own a snow blower, there’s only one other way to clear the fluffy, slushy white mess — manually. However, before you head outdoors with a shovel in hand and warm attire to protect you from the elements, there’s a lot to consider. If you’re not careful, you could risk muscle strain, other serious injuries and even frostbite.
Here are some tips to help you and your family stay safe while shovelling snow.
Think Health First
The likelihood of a heart attack increased the day after a snowfall among men
In a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, University of Montreal scientists warn that Canadians should not be overexerting themselves while snow shovelling. The study looks at more than 20 years of data from Quebec and their findings are quite alarming. Dr. Brian Potter states that after a heavy snowfall, there is evidence of an increase in the numbers of both cardiac events and deaths. Both the quantity and duration of snowfall is associated with a risk of hospital admission or death due to myocardial infarction (heart attack), especially amongst men. Surprisingly, Dr. Potter’s study found that this was true whether there was a heavy snowfall, an increased frequency of significant snowfall, or a prolonged period of snowfall, regardless of pre-existing risk medical factors. Interestingly, the likelihood of a heart attack increased the day after a snowfall among men but not among women.
Clearing heavy, wet snow raises your heart rate quickly. Add in cold temperatures this raises blood pressure and increases the likelihood of developing blood clots, which can be deadly.
If you’re healthy and ready to shovel, Heart and Stroke Canada recommends doing the following before shovelling:
- Warm up first. Take a short walk to get the blood flowing, and stretch your muscles beforehand.
- Work first, eat later. Your body works hard to digest food after a large meal. If you eat before shoveling, this could place extra strain on your heart.
- Get help with the heavy lifting. Ask family members or friends to help out especially with deep, packing snow. Remember to lift with your legs, not your back! If you have neighbours who are seniors, you may want to help them out.
- Take a breather. Take frequent breaks; shovel for 5 to 7 minutes and rest for around 2 to 3 minutes. Also make sure you drink water to stay hydrated.
- Stop if you experience shortness of breath. If you experience discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, nausea, dizziness, or severe headache, immediately seek medical attention.
- Keep your phone with you. Have your cell phone with you (especially if shovelling alone) in case you need to make an emergency call.
- Watch out for traffic. When shovelling near the end of your driveway or in a heavily trafficked area,, pay attention to passing vehicles and move out of the way.
Dress for the Weather
Wear layers of warm, lightweight clothing that will be comfortable to move in. Always remember that the inner layers should be breathable and moisture-wicking to allow perspiration to escape from the skin’s surface. Don’t forget your head, feet and hands! Don a warm hat, gloves and a scarf. Wear thermal socks and winter boots that are water-resistant and provide good traction.
Best Time to Shovel
If you’re like me (and you’re available to do so), stay on top of the snowfall by shoveling shortly after the snow begins and by making a few short trips throughout the day. The advantages are that you avoid accumulation which makes shovelling more strenuous and you can help reduce ice buildup throughout the day.
Choosing the Right Shovel
The City of Toronto recommends a sturdy, lightweight shovel (a small plastic blade is better than a large metal blade) less than 1.5 kg (about 3 pounds). Look for ergonomically designed models with a curved handle to help prevent injury. It’s also a good idea to spray the blade with a silicone-based lubricant so the snow doesn’t stick to the shovel. Consider the conditions, though! In extremely cold environments, plastic shovel blades can shatter.
Get the Technique Right
The Canadian Centre for Occupation Health and Safety recommends working at a steady pace when shovelling. Rather than lifting the snow, push the snow. If you must throw the snow, take only as much as you can comfortably handle and turn your feet to the direction you’re throwing. Bend at the knees and avoid twisting at the waist.
Know Your Responsibilities
As a property owner you are responsible for keeping public sidewalks and walking areas around your property clear of snow and ice. When you’re shovelling your driveway, don’t push the snow onto the road as this can cause a safety hazard and interrupt snow cleaning operations. It’s also against the law in many cities. Check with your town or city’s bylaws regarding snow and ice removal requirements and the time frames in which you must clear the snow.
A few other things to keep in mind:
- Stock up on salt and ice melt in advance.
- Keep parked cars off the roads if possible as they can interfere with snow plows.
- Do not park your car over sidewalks.
- Clear snow from catch basins to prevent flooding on the road when snow melts.
- Clear snow from around fire hydrants.
For more information about safe shoveling, including what to consider when selecting a shovel, and the rate (how fast) you should shovel, please see the Occupational Health and Safety document, Shovelling.
We encourage you to follow these tips to keep you and your family safe and healthy during the snowy winter season!
Any tips we missed? Let us know in the comments below.