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Snow removal can be bad for your health

Posted: Monday, December 29, 2003

Shoveling snow is an unpleasant, albeit routine part of winter. However, despite how mundane this task may seem, it is not without hidden dangers.

Every year people hurt themselves while in the process of removing snow from around or on top of their homes.

Injuries can range from minor aches and pains to major muscle pulls and heart attacks.

"You want to bend at the knees and keep your back straight," said Dr. Michael Koob of Koob Chiro-practic in Soldotna.

It's all in the legs when it comes to snow shoveling, he said.

"You don't want to bend at the waist," he said. Bending at the waist puts pressure on the spine and can potentially cause a number of back injuries.

Koob also recommends that, like exercise, you shouldn't shovel when you first wake up.

"You definitely don't want to get out of bed and start heave-hoing, because it puts a lot of stress on the spine," he said. "You want to be awake and on your feet for at least an hour first."

Also, dress warm enough for the outdoors, but don't overdress. Remember, it's exercise, and sweating should be avoided.

As with any exercise, warm up your muscles first and pace yourself. Take breaks as needed. The whole job may not be possible all at once.

Remember to drink plenty of fluids, as well. The dry, cold air quickly can dehydrate a person performing even mild exercise.

The alternative to the physical exercise of shoveling is the snowblower, but the use of these, too, are not without possible injuries.

The best way to prevent accidents is to become familiar with the snowblower and its operating instructions. Once operating the machine, always keep hands, feet and clothing away from the working parts.

Avoid running over rocks and don't aim the discharge chute at passing pedestrians or vehicles.

Never try to clear clogged snow or objects from a running snowblower. The same goes for doing any repairs or adding fuel -- the machine always should be off and the engine cool.

Whether shoveling or blowing snow, clearing driveways and walkways quickly can become second nature, but what about snow on the roof?

Roofs can present a whole new area for potential accidents and injuries. Unlike the previously mentioned surfaces that can be cleared with as little as two inches of snow, there is a little more science involved in clearing roofs.

"Forty pounds per square foot, that's what roof trusses are built to withstand," said Tom Bell or Alaska Handyman Service in Nikiski.

"I wouldn't recommend waiting until it's that close, though," he said. "As the snow accumulates, it will compress down and can crack off the ends of overhangs or cause other damage."

Bell said it's difficult to state exactly how much snow will equal the 40-pound maximum, since it can depend on how wet or dry the snow is.

However, he did say generally three to four feet of snow is getting close.

Paul Moses, assistant manager at Spenard Builders Supply in Soldotna, agreed there's a lot of factors to consider in regard to exactly when to clear roofs.

"That's a tough one," he said. "It can depend on the roof, drifting of snow, type of snow and individual choice."

Moses said most roofs of recent construction that are up to code are probably in good shape. It's older homes and light-framed structures that should be cleared quickly.

"Sheds are usually the first to go," he said of collapsing structures.

Moses recommends roof rakes for clearing the snow from on top of homes and other buildings.

"Walking around up there to shovel can often do more damage," he said. "I wouldn't recommend a snowblower, either. It can be done, but shouldn't be done by a novice or they could end up with (it) in the living room."



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