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Snow blowers or snow throwers are linked to more than 6,000 emergency room visits, according to a report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. While sprains and strains often accompany snow blower accidents, many injuries involve the hands and fingers. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH), 3,000 hand injuries, including 283 finger amputations, were reported in a 1999 study.

To avoid snow blower injuries, keep all safety guards in place, don’t use your hands or feet to unclog snow in the auger, and don’t disable the “dead man’s switch.” This required safety feature turns off the motor if you were to slip or lose your grip on the machine. Be cautious of the muffler, which can become very hot and pose a burn hazard for children and adults. Protect your eyes and ears with goggles and ear protection.

Be sure to keep children and pets clear of snow blowers because, in addition to snow, these machines throw rocks, sticks, ice and other objects. Steer the chute away from windows, too.

Be cautious about what you wear. Be careful about loose clothing, long scarves or long hair, which could become entangled in the moving parts.

If you have to deal with snow but lack a snow blower, shovelling is another option that also doubles as physical activity. However, shovelling puts stress on the heart. Consider these additional health and safety tips when you are removing snow.

  • Avoid caffeine or nicotine before beginning to remove snow. These are stimulants, which may increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict. This places extra stress on the heart.
  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is just as big an issue in cold winter months as it is in the summer.
  • Dress in several layers so you can remove a layer as needed. Synthetic fibres help wick away perspiration better than natural fibres. Be sure to wear boots with slip-resistant soles.
  • Warm your muscles before shovelling by walking for a few minutes or marching in place. Stretch the muscles in your arms and legs because warm muscles will work more efficiently and be less likely to be injured.
  • Pick the right shovel for you. A smaller blade will require you to lift less snow, putting less strain on your body.
  • Begin shovelling slowly to avoid placing a sudden demand on your heart. Pace yourself and take breaks as needed.
  • Protect your back from injury by lifting correctly. Stand with your feet about hip width for balance and keep the shovel close to your body. Bend from the knees (not the back) and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow. Avoid twisting movements. If you need to move the snow to one side, reposition your feet to face the direction the snow will be going.
  • Most importantly, listen to your body. Stop if you feel pain.

About the author

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Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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