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Feb. 9, 2007

OSWEGO COUNTY HEALTH DIRECTOR ISSUES SNOW SHOVELING AND SNOW BLOWING SAFETY TIPS

The unusual amount of snow piling up in Oswego County creates a number of cold weather tasks that must be accomplished. Piles of snow need to be cleared from driveways, steps and sidewalks in the coming days and weeks. By following some simple safety precautions, the inevitable chores can be done safely and without injuries.

"The good news is that 15 minutes of snow shoveling counts as moderate physical activity," said Kathleen Smith, Public Health Director for Oswego County. "The bad news is that the number of fatal heart attacks resulting from snow shoveling increases after a heavy snowfall. Snow shoveling is extremely hard work. It increases heart rate and blood pressure. Cold weather itself, without any physical exertion, puts additional strain on your heart."

Smith said people who shovel snow should be in good physical condition. People who are overweight, have heart problems, high cholesterol or high blood pressure are at higher risk for injuries when snow shoveling.

"Back injuries are among the most common injuries resulting from snow shoveling. Stretching first is always a good idea. If possible, wait until later in the day to start shoveling," said Smith.

Many back injuries occur in the morning because the tissue around the spine is not as warmed up or loose after a night of rest. Ironically, people between the ages of 20 and 50 are generally more likely than older individuals to injure their backs because they may not be aware they are out of condition. Older people with back problems should never attempt to shovel snow. An older person also has a greater risk of slipping on ice or snow and breaking a wrist, hip, arm or leg.

Here are some shoveling tips to prevent back injury and strain:

  • Use a lightweight snow shovel. New "back-saver" snow shovels are designed with crooked handles to minimize bending and back strain.
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart for balance and keep the shovel close to your body.
  • Take small loads of snow, bend at the knees and lift with your leg muscles, not your back.
  • Scoop in a forward motion and step in the direction you throw the snow.
  • Avoid twisting movements which put additional strain on your back.
  • Listen to your body and stop if you feel pain.
  • Take frequent breaks. Stand up and walk around for at least two or three minutes after every 10 minutes of snow shoveling.

"Another leading cause of injury during the winter season is failure to take precautions while using a snow blower," Smith said. These simple steps will help you avoid injury while using a snow blower:

  • Wear winter boots with treads and tie the laces tightly so you have a firm footing before you start the snow blower.
  • Remove obstacles from your path and aim the snow carefully. If rocks or chunks of ice are thrown by the snow blower, they may cause injury or damage to property.
  • Do not unclog the snow blower chute while the engine is running.
  • Do not wear loose-fitting clothing that may get caught in the snow blower.
  • Do not operate the blower over gravel or loose stones or on steep hills.
  • Know how to shut the machine off quickly.
  • Never leave your snow blower running and unattended.
  • Keep children away from the snow blower at all times.

Remember, as with any outdoor activity, you should dress properly for the weather. Wear several layers of loose fitting, lightweight clothing. Half of body heat is lost through the head, so wear a hat. Wear mittens instead of gloves. Entrapped, insulated air, warmed by body heat, is the best protection against the cold.

For more information on shoveling and snow blowing safety, call the Oswego County Health Department at 349-3547 or 1-800-596-3200, ext. 3547.


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