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Don’t Get Snowballed by the White Stuff

Shoveling snow and using snow blowers are common activities in a lot of places this time of year. These chores also get a lot of people hurt and help keep emergency rooms busy.

According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, clearing sidewalks and driveways of snow and ice sends more than 11,000 adults and children to hospitals every year. Health issues related to snow and ice removal include strained backs, broken bones, head injuries, lacerations, amputations and heart attacks.

Cold temperatures contribute to these injuries. That’s because cold air restricts blood flow to the muscles, making it harder for them to work and increasing risk for musculoskeletal injuries like tendonitis. Cold air also affects dexterity, leading to increased risk for injury due to the hands being less nimble. The cold also makes the heart pump harder which can increase risk for a heart attack, particularly for people who have heart disease or who have sedentary lifestyles.

If you count yourself among the millions of people in the U.S. and Canada tasked with removing snow this year, these tips can help you do it safely:


  • Push snow forward. If you must lift, use leg muscles for support, not your back.
  • Don’t throw snow over your shoulder or to the side. This twisting stresses the back.
  • Shovel early and often. The sooner you shovel, the less you have to deal with frozen snow.
  • Use the proper equipment including a lightweight, rigid snow shovel (not a garden one) and slip-resistant boots.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Limit snow-shoveling sessions to no more than 30-60 minutes at a time.

Snow blowing:

  • Read the instruction manual.
  • Never stick your hands or feet in the snow blower. Stop the engine and use a solid object to clear the chute.
  • Never leave the snow blower unattended.

In addition, keep in mind that exposure to cold and snow can lead to cold stress, hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot. Furthermore, regardless of the time of year, exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays increases risk for skin cancer. Before taking on the white stuff, always dress in layers and apply broad spectrum sunscreen and lip balm with sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or higher.

The LHSFNA has a number of Health Alerts, brochures and other materials pertaining to cold stress and skin cancer. Order them through the online Publications Catalogue at

Sun protection products and educational materials are available throughout the year to LIUNA signatory employers, training centers, district councils and local unions. Call 202-628-5465 for more information.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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