Spectrum Health Offers Safety Tips For Snow Removal

Resolve to Start The New Year With Caution

The winter season is firmly established throughout the Great Lakes region with many areas setting snowfall records for December. With New Year’s arrival, a resolution to safely deal with nature’s abundance should accompany promises of eating better and exercising more.

Winter’s arrival always brings injuries related to snow removal, says Jim Schweigert, MD, medical director of the emergency department (ED) at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital. Shoveling and snowblower use can bring falls, fractures, back injures, hand injuries and heart attacks to the ED every time there is a storm, he explained.

“Winter can be a wonderful time of year if you’re an outdoor enthusiast but there are a lot of potential hazards specific to dealing with snow,” said Schweigert. “We see a lot of injuries that could be prevented and the first of the year is an excellent time to think about safety.”

People should approach snow shoveling as an exercise session and treat their snowblower with the same respect they do their lawn mower, said Schweigert. “Thirty minutes or more of shoveling can be strenuous and you need to be in shape and prepared for it. Make sure you’re capable of that kind of exercise and warm up a little to prevent muscle strain.

“In addition, snowblowers can be dangerous, especially when jammed with ice or foreign objects, said Schweigert. “Even after you turn them off, moving parts can remain under tension and swiftly rotate after a jam is removed. Do not use your hands to free jams.”

According to a 2005 Consumer Products Safety Commission study, snowblowers were the fourth leading cause of finger amputations with more than 1,000 per year and more than 5,000 emergency room visits. In addition, from 1992-2005 there were nine deaths reported from snowblower accidents.

Clearing snow and ice from driveways and sidewalks is hard work. To prevent injuries, follow these safety tips from the National Safety Council:

  • Dress warmly, paying special attention to feet, hands, nose and ears.’
  • Avoid shoveling snow if you are out of shape. If you have a history of heart trouble, do not shovel snow unless your doctor says it’s okay.’
  • Do light warm-up exercises and stretches before shoveling and take frequent breaks.’
  • If possible, push snow in front of you. If you have to lift it, pick up small amounts and lift with your legs, not your back. Do not toss snow over your shoulder or to the side.’
  • Don’t drink alcohol before or while shoveling snow. Never smoke while shoveling.’
  • Use rock salt or de-icing compounds to remove ice from steps, walkways and sidewalks. Sand placed on walkways may also help prevent slipping.’
  • If you use a snow blower (also called a snow thrower), follow these safety guidelines:’
    • Read the owner’s manual before starting your snow blower. Make sure you understand all the recommended safety steps.’
    • Make sure all people and pets are out of the way before you begin.’
    • Do not put your hand in the snow blower to remove impacted snow or debris. Turn the machine off and wait a few seconds. Then use a stick or broom handle to remove the material.’
    • Do not leave the snow blower unattended when it is running.’
    • Never let a child operate a snow blower.’
    • Fill up with fuel before you start when the engine is cool.

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system in West Michigan that offers a full continuum of care through its seven hospitals, more than 140 service sites and Priority Health, a health plan with nearly 500,000 members. Spectrum Health’s 14,000 employees, 1,500 medical staff members and 2,000 volunteers are committed to delivering the highest quality care to those in medical need.’ The organization provided $111.1 million in community benefit during its 2008 fiscal year. As a system, Spectrum Health has earned more than 100 awards during the past 10 years. More news about Spectrum Health is available at’