“You must consult your physician before any snow shoveling activity, especially if you have back or heart problems.”
If you live in an area where snow is a regular occurrence during the winter (like Calgary), then you know that snow shoveling can be a real pain. Not only is it cold and tiring, but it can also be dangerous if you’re not careful.
Every year, people across the country end up in the hospital because of snow shoveling-related injuries. In fact, according to Professor Scott Lear, snow shoveling increases heart attack risk in men by 34%. This is especially for big dumps of snow (20 cm or more).
While most of these injuries are minor, some injuries (e.g. heart attacks) can be quite serious, even deadly. That’s why it’s so important to be careful when shoveling snow.
Here are 31 tips to help you stay safe while shoveling snow in Calgary:
1. Warm up before you start shoveling. Just like you would before any other type of physical activity, it’s important to warm up your muscles before snow shoveling. A few simple stretches will help get your body ready for the work ahead.
2. Take your time. There’s no need to hurry when shoveling the snow. Take your time and be careful to avoid overexerting yourself.
3. Use the right tools. Make sure you’re using a shovel that’s the right size for you, and that has a comfortable grip.
4. Dress for the occasion. Wear layers of loose-fitting, warm clothing to protect yourself from the cold. Make sure your hands and feet are well-insulated and that you’re wearing a hat or scarf to keep your head and neck warm.
5. Push the snow, don’t lift it. Whenever possible, push the snow instead of lifting it. Lifting snow puts unnecessary strain on your back and could lead to an injury.
6. Lift with your legs. If you do need to lift snow, be sure to use your legs, not your back. Squat down and lift with your legs, keeping your back straight.
7. Don’t throw the snow. Throwing snow over your shoulder can stress your back and lead to an injury. Instead, walk to where you want to dump the snow and dump it there.
8. Take frequent breaks. Don’t try to shovel all the snow at once. Take frequent breaks to rest and avoid becoming too tired.
9. Drink plenty of fluids. Shoveling snow is a strenuous activity and can make you sweat, even in the cold. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, such as water or sports drinks, to stay hydrated.
10. Watch for ice. Be careful of hidden ice beneath the snow. If you hit ice while shoveling, it could cause you to slip and fall.
11. Use salt or sand. If you’re shoveling on a sidewalk or other surface that could be icy, sprinkle salt or sand on it to help prevent slipping.
12. Be careful of power lines. If you’re shoveling around power lines, be extra careful. Don’t touch the lines or anything that’s touching them, such as tree branches.
13. Don’t smoke. Smoking while shoveling snow can increase your risk of a heart attack.
14. Don’t drink alcohol. Drinking alcohol before or while shoveling snow can make you tired and increase your risk of injury.
15. Know your limits. If you have a medical condition that could be exacerbated by shoveling snow, such as heart disease or back problems, talk to your doctor before shoveling.
16. Get help if you need it. If you’re not sure you can handle shoveling snow on your own, ask a friend or neighbour for help.
17. Use a small shovel. A smaller shovel will make the job easier and help you avoid overdoing it.
18. Don’t overload the shovel. Don’t try to shovel too much snow at once. Overloading the shovel can make it harder to handle and increase your risk of injury.
19. Don’t twist your body. When shoveling, always face the direction you’re throwing the snow. Twisting your body to throw the snow can lead to back injuries.
20. Take short shovelfuls. It’s better to take several small shovelfuls than one big one. Smaller shovelfuls are easier to handle and less likely to cause injuries.
21. Don’t throw the snow over your head. Throwing snow over your head can be hard on your back and shoulders. It’s better to toss the snow to the side or in front of you.
22. Use a plastic shovel. Metal shovels can get very cold and increase your risk of injury. A plastic shovel will be easier to handle and won’t be as cold to the touch.
23. Don’t stand in one place. If you have to shovel for a long period of time, be sure to move around and change positions often. Standing in one place for too long can cause pain and stiffness.
24. Don’t hunch over. When shoveling, be sure to stand up straight and avoid hunching over. Hunching over can put a strain on your back and lead to injuries.
25. Pace yourself. Shoveling snow is hard work. Don’t try to do too much too fast. Pace yourself and take frequent breaks to avoid becoming too tired.
26. Don’t work to the point of exhaustion. If you’re feeling tired, take a break. It’s better to take a break and rest than to push yourself to the point of exhaustion.
27. Know the signs of a heart attack. Shoveling snow can be hard on your heart. Be sure to know the signs of a heart attack and call 911 if you experience them.
28. Call 911 if you have chest pain. If you experience chest pain while shoveling, don’t ignore it. Call 911 and get medical help right away.
29. Don’t ignore pain. If you start to feel pain while shoveling, stop and rest. Continuing to shovel through the pain could make your injuries worse.
30. Get medical help if you’re injured. If you’re injured while shoveling, don’t try to tough it out. Get medical help right away.
31. Stay safe and healthy. The best way to avoid injuries while shoveling snow is to stay safe and healthy. If you have any medical conditions that could be aggravated by shoveling, talk to your doctor before you start.
You can prevent the accumulation of snow (and thus, no snow shoveling is needed) by heating your driveway. Don’t use a flamethrower similar to what some may see in some TikTok videos, YouTube videos, or Facebook Reels; instead, invest in a hydronic heating system. That system is composed of special tubes that carry heated fluid (water or a mixture of water and other liquids) and are embedded in the concrete of the driveway or the walkway.
Of course, that solution may not be affordable for everyone, but its results are fantastic and could prevent fatal injuries from falling on ice and/or snow shoveling.
By following these simple tips, you can help avoid serious injuries while shoveling the snow.
Stay safe and healthy this winter!