As snow blankets many parts of the country, Cornell professor of design and environmental analysis and ergonomics expert Alan Hedge offers several tips and tricks to avoid injury or death when shoveling snow.
"Each year, between 1990 and 2006, there has been an average of 11,500 snow shoveling-related injuries and medical emergencies treated in U.S. emergency departments. These include a total of 1,647 fatalities.
"Snow shoveling or snow pushing – it doesn’t matter which method one uses – is physically heavy work that is not suitable for people with cardiac risk factors. Both activities push the heart rate up to 140 beats per minute. It’s a good cardiac workout for a fitness freak but fatal for those with cardiovascular problems.
"Don’t shovel barehanded! When snow shoveling, the extremities can get cold, which constricts blood vessels up to 30 percent, which also raises cardiovascular risks – so wearing warm gloves and footwear is important.
"Snow shoveling increases the risks of other accidents. Slipping and falling account for 20 percent of accidents – or about 2,400 per year. Lower back injuries account for about 4,000 accidents per year, and soft tissue strains or sprains about 6,500 accidents per year.
"On average, around 2,000 accidents per year occur in children under 18 years of age, so if you’re going to have your kids shoveling snow, watch them very carefully. Over 2,500 accidents per year happen in those over 55 years old. Nearly 2,000 accidents per year occur because someone gets hit with the snow shovel!
"Shovel design plays an important role. Use an ergonomic snow shovel design. Shovels with a ‘D’ shaped handle at a 30-degree angle significantly reduce physical effort. Bent-shaft snow shovels reduce lower-back joint loading during snow shoveling – which again reduces injury risks.
"The bottom line: unless you are a younger, fit and healthy adult, use a snow blower or have a snow-plow service, or wait for the snow to melt!"