Snow! How to deal with it ergonomically

I know Snow! I live in Minnesota! So, you’re getting two feet of snow and you don’t have a snowblower, what to do?

Dress for the weather and the task:

  1. Layers are the best way to dress because when you first go out you will be cold, but as you shovel, you will warm up and you do not want to sweat. Dress in Layers.
  2. Gloves or Mittens should have a grippy surface for shoveling. If you have some that have a suede or leather palm, wear those. It will help reduce the amount of force you need to grip the shovel.
  3. Hat: Cover your head so that you don’t lose heat too fast.

Warm Up Before Going Out:

  1. Your back will thank you if you warm up. I do a couple of stretches and there are yoga poses. I’m not a doctor so ask your health care person to help you pick out ones that won’t hurt you.
  2. If you have lots of snow, stretch your arms, shoulders, and chest to get ready to shovel.
  3. Boots- a warm pair that do not fit tight are the best. Wear a light cotton or wool sock to wick away moisture.

Have the Right Tools:

  1. A good shovel(s)- Look at the blade and make sure that it is still in good condition. Probably you should do this in the fall to make sure you are prepared… Stash a shovel near your door if you have a detached garage so that you can shovel your way there.
  2. Salt/Sand, or some sort of ice clearing substance to make your efforts pay off.
  3. A roof rake- if you own a house and you live where it snows, it Pays to have a roof rake…

Now Shovel:

  1. Steps: start at the top and let gravity help you work down towards any walkways. If you can, push the snow off rather than lifting it over rails. You may end up pushing the same snow off more than one stair, but it is better to use gravity when you can. You may have a long shovel ahead.
  2. Walkways: Don’t load the shovel full, take smaller shovelfuls because they are easier to lift. I recommend shoveling an aisle on one side of the walk and then cleaning up the other side so that you can stand in front of what you are shoveling.
  3. Driveways: Make an aisle down the middle of the driveway so that you can stand in front of what you shovel. Then attack the sides. With all the snow we have had this year, I found that the sides of the driveway get rather high rather quickly, so we worked to put the snow that we shoveled as far back into the yard as we could as we worked.
  4. The End of Driveways and Walkways: IF you are lucky to get there before the plow reaches you, clear around the area and to the left of your entrance. I read that if you shovel to the left and down to the end of your property, when the plow comes through you won’t get that snow at the end of your driveway. That is something I have to try because I have been attacking the end of my front walk over, and over and the repetitive motion is frustrating to say the least.
  5. Roof: DON’T CLIMB onto the roof!!! Heavy snow can cause ice dams an we all hate ice dams, but we also hate death, and disability caused by falling off the roof. Get a rake and try to keep the lower edge of your roof clear.
  6. Paths: Being a good person, I shovel paths for the mailman so that he can get to the next house without going back out to the street. I also shovel a path where I need to go in my yard- one around bird feeders, and another one going to the vents for my furnace and dryer. I found that last time it snowed, both were completely blocked- meaning that those fumes would be blocked from exiting my house should I choose to have heat or do laundry. KEEP THEM CLEAR.

Cool Down: After you get ALL that shoveling done, go in the house, put your feet up and relax your back. If you already have back problems, you may want to put a pillow under your knees, or roll up a towel and put it under you along your spine so that your shoulders relax.

IF you have a snowblower: Goody for you! However, watch that you do not try to unclog your snowblower without turning the power off! Just because the blades aren’t turning, that doesn’t mean that they won’t start when you get the clog cleared… Traumatic amputations are not uncommon.. Keep your digits!


About practicalergonomics

I work to empower companies as they design leading edge interactions, processes, and products for the people they serve. My background combines the analytic nature of Industrial Engineering with the insight of psychology for a unique perspective on people at work. My strengths lie in being able to listen to my clients’ needs, bring together the skills needed to address those needs, and focus efforts to satisfy those needs.
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