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Avoid injury shovelling snow, Health Unit cautions

SIMCOE, DEC. 7 – With the first major snowfalls taking place this week, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is urging people to be careful when shovelling.

“Shovelling snow can be quite dangerous, so it’s important to do it safely,” said Joanne Alessi, Injury Prevention Coordinator at the Health Unit. “Every winter, people hurt themselves shovelling, whether it’s minor aches, strained muscles or fatal heart attacks. Shovelling your driveway or sidewalk can be a strenuous workout, so you need to be prepared.”

Starting to shovel is like picking up a set of weights, Alessi pointed out. So if you’re older or out of shape, you have a greater chance of hurting yourself. Even people who exercise regularly can find shovelling strenuous. People most at risk of injury while shovelling snow are those who have had a heart attack, a history of heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, and people who smoke or who lead a sedentary lifestyle.

Alessi offers the following tips to make shovelling less dangerous for everyone:

The basics

  • Avoid eating, smoking or drinking beverages with caffeine before shovelling. These stimulants may increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict.
  • If you experience pain of any kind, shortness of breath or heavy sweating, stop immediately and seek assistance. Pace yourself. Take a five-minute break for every 15 minutes of shovelling.
  • Make sure you drink lots of water to keep your body hydrated.
  • If the ground is slick or icy, spread salt or sand over the area to create traction for your feet.
  • Be aware of areas that are uneven and could cause you to trip or fall.

Dress for success

  • Dress in layers and wear clothing that allows easy movement.
  • Wear a hat to keep warm. A great deal of body heat is lost through the head.
  • Proper boots are essential. Wear boots with a good tread to help maintain your balance on slippery surfaces.
  • If it is cold, wear a mask or scarf that will warm the air before you breathe it.


  • Shovel early and often because snow weighs more after it compacts or starts to melt.
  • Warm up with stretches and light exercise, then start with light loads on the shovel to open your arteries gradually.
  • Lift as much of the weight as possible with your legs, keeping your back straight and sparing your arms from unnecessary work. Try pushing snow rather than lifting it.
  • If you must lift, squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Do not bend at the waist or throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back. Keep the shovel close to your body rather than extending your arms.
  • Use a shovel with a shaft that lets you keep your back straight while lifting. Many people injure themselves by using a shovel with a shaft that is too short, causing the back to bend more to lift the load. A shovel that is too long makes the weight heavier.

For more information about safe snow shovelling, contact the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit at 519-426-6170 or toll-free from 905 at 905-318-6623.

Media contact information: Joanne Alessi, Injury Prevention Coordinator, Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, 905-318-5367 Ext.322 or [email protected]