The winter months can be a festive and fun time of year; however, they can also bring many hazards that can lead to hand, wrist, elbow or shoulder injuries. Snow shoveling and removal are strenuous and sometimes risky activities that are necessary in these snowy months, and should be addressed with some simple safety measures to protect yourself from potential injury.
Common safety steps to take when addressing snow removal include:
- Warm up before tackling snow removal – Doing a short amount of light exercise to warm your body prior to shoveling snow can assist in reducing your risk of injury.
- Wearing gloves with skid resistant material – One simple strategy to combat the snow is to be sure your gloves and/or mittens have a skid resistant material on the palm and fingers. This will allow you to have adequate grip on your shovel to prevent unnecessary slipping of your equipment.
- Wearing gloves that provide enough warmth but also allow adequate motion of your fingers to grip your equipment – At times, your gloves can be too thick, making it difficult to have a successful grasp of your shovel or equipment. You want gloves or mittens that provide enough warmth, but it is also important that you are able to safely and firmly grasp your shovel. It may be beneficial to also ‘break in’ new gloves to ensure your fingers move freely.
- When possible, push snow out of the way instead of lifting the snow – You can put yourself at less risk for injury if you avoid lifting the snow. Keeping your arms close to your body to push the snow is generally a safer way to move the snow and avoid hurting wrists, elbows, shoulders or even your back.
- When lifting snow, avoid full shovel fulls – When the situation requires you to lift snow, be sure to lift smaller, lighter amounts. This will allow you to better pace yourself. Avoid a situation where you lift more than a comfortable amount and strain your arms or back.
- Pace yourself and take breaks – Break up your snow shoveling needs, take short breaks, to allow your body to rest. Light stretching during breaks and drinking plenty of water will also assist in reducing your risk of injury.
In a recent report, snowblowers were the 4th most frequent mechanism of injury for hand and upper extremity amputations. Aside from amputations, snowblower injuries can damage bone, soft tissue, nerves, nail beds, and tendons. The majority of snowblower injuries occur when individuals attempt to remove snow clogs with their hands, and it is typically the dominant hand that is injured.
- Do NOT remove clogs from snowblowers with your hands – Snowblowers are wonderful helpers on those heavy snowfall days. However, they also come with their own set of risks. One of the most important safety tips to remember is to never use your hand to remove a clog from your snowblower. Instead, you can use a broomstick, stick, or even a shovel handle to remove the clog.
- Be sure snowblower is completely off and blades have stopped moving before removing clogs – . Even if you are using an object other than your hand to remove a clog, do not attempt any technique until the blower is completely off and the blades have settled fully. Even if the power is OFF, removing a clog with your hands can result in a rapid recoil, which may cause severe finger injuries. The clogged snow can prevent all the rotational force in the blades to be exhausted. Therefore, when the clog is removed, the force is released and the blades will move.
In general, it is best to pace yourself when doing any type of snow removal and to know your limits. If you feel unsafe performing a task, it may be beneficial to ask for assistance. Following the above strategies can help keep your hands and arms (as well as your back) safe during this strenuous chore.
Steph Clement, MS, OTR/L, CHT is a certified hand therapist and a member of the American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT).