Snow Removal and Winter Safety Tips
No matter what method you choose, snow removal can take its toll on you and your body. It’s an annual chore for most of us that leaves us working out in the cold. Due to the amount of physical activity involved with snow removal, it’s important to consider the health risks involved before starting. With these snow removal safety tips, it won’t matter if you’re shoveling, using a snowblower or pushing that snow with a plow—you’ll know how to handle each task with safety in mind.
General Snow Removal Safety Tips
Some snow removal safety tips apply no matter how you’re tackling the task. These are good to keep in mind any time you’re out clearing snow.
- Check with your doctor - If your method of snow removal is snowblowing or shoveling, this is especially important. These two methods put a lot of strain on your heart and you should always check with a healthcare professional before engaging in these activities. If you don’t exercise regularly or if you have existing medical conditions, it could be beneficial to consider hiring someone else to perform your snow removal. There’s always a neighbor kid who’s looking to shovel and make a few extra bucks.
- Dress Appropriately - Snow removal brings us out into the elements to work. It’s important to dress for the weather that you’ll be working in. We recommend light, layered, water-repellent clothing. This type of attire will help provide insulation, as well as allow your body heat to ventilate and avoid excessive sweating.
Don’t forget your hat and gloves! It’s important to remember to keep your hands and feet warm while outside in the cold weather. Wearing appropriate gloves, warm socks and a warm hat that covers your ears will help you protect your hands, feet and head from the dangers of being in cold temperatures for extended periods of time.
It’s also important to make sure you have the appropriate footwear on. Choosing a pair of boots with slip resistant soles is recommended to provide you with additional footing on icy surfaces. You should also be sure to wear warm insulated socks to protect your feet from the cold weather.
- Start Early - It’s best to start your snow removal early and perform it more frequently. This way you’re moving a light covering of snow each time instead of trying to move heavy, compacted snow.
- Clear Vision - It’s important to be able to clearly see the area where you’re removing snow from. Make sure your hat or scarf (if applicable) isn’t blocking your view. Watch for any hidden patches of ice or uneven surfaces.
Safety Tips for Shoveling Snow
Using our general snow removal safety tips is a great start for this activity but there are other tips to help prevent injuries specific to shoveling snow. Shoveling snow is a physically demanding activity performed in extreme weather. For this reason it’s important to make sure you keep these tips in mind to help you avoid injury while shoveling.
- Warm-up your muscles - Shoveling can be a physically demanding activity. Muscle strains and sprains are the most common injuries associated with snow removal. We recommend warming up your muscles for around 10 minutes with light exercise to help avoid any muscle strains or any sprains.
- Pace Yourself - This is one of the more important things to consider while shoveling snow, especially if you don’t exercise regularly. Shoveling snow and snowblowing are both aerobic activities. It’s important to take frequent breaks and to be proactive about preventing dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids. If you experience any chest pain, shortness of breath, or any other signs of a heart attack, stop the activity and seek emergency care immediately.
- Proper Equipment - Make sure the shovel you’re using is comfortable to use for your height and strength. Don’t use a shovel that is too heavy or long for you. This will increase the effort needed to remove the snow from your driveway. Make sure your hands are properly spaced on the shovels grip, as this will increase your leverage while shoveling.
- Proper Lifting - When shoveling, try to push the snow instead of lifting it. This will help put less strain on your body. If you must lift to shovel the area you’re clearing, make sure you do it properly. Squat with your legs apart and knees bent to provide a more stable stance. Make sure you’re lifting with your legs. Do not bend at the waist; this will put too much strain on your back. Make sure you’re scooping small amounts of snow and walking each scoop to where you want to dump it. Don’t go overboard; holding a shovelful of snow in front of you with your arms extended will put too much weight on your spine. That’s why it’s important to make sure you don’t attempt to remove deep snow all at once, make sure you do it in smaller more manageable pieces.
- Safe Technique - Don’t throw snow over your shoulder or off to the side. Doing this causes you to move in a twisting motion. This twisting motion and the additional weight of the snow in the shovel create too much stress on your back and can cause injury.
Tips for Snowblowing
Some of the most common injuries associated with using a snowblower are lacerations and amputations of fingers. Making sure you’re following our general snow removal safety tips is a great head start on snowblower safety. These additional tips specific to snowblower operation will help keep you and those around you safe while you operate your snowblower.
- Preventative Cleaning - Before snow gets too deep, inspect any areas where you plan on using your snowblower. Remove any doormats, sleds, boards, wires, news papers, and anything else that can get buried and potentially clog and damage your snowblower.
- Never Stick Your Hands in a Snowblower! - If your snowblower jams up, stop the engine and wait at least 10 seconds. Be sure to keep your hands and feet clear of all moving parts. Use a solid object to clear any compacted wet snow or debris from the chute. Never use your hands or feet to clear a clog, jammed augers and impellers can be under enough belt tension to cause serious injury to hands and feet. Be extra cautious and aware of the recoil of the motor and blades after the blower has been turned off.
- Protect Your hearing - Make sure you wear ear plugs while operating your snowblower. This is important for people using gas-powered machines, as these typically run above 85 decibels, which is the point at which hearing damage can begin to occur.
- Proper Supervision - Snowblowers use either a metal auger or other arrangement of paddles to break down, collect and throw snow. This auger or these paddles get moving with a lot of speed and force. It’s important to make sure anytime you’re using a snowblower that you never leave it unattended. It’s also important to be aware of where you’re chute is throwing snow. Ice or other hidden objects can be grabbed and thrown by the snowblower, so never direct your snow discharge towards people.
- Safe Fueling - Like any other outdoor power equipment with a gas engine, never refuel it while the engine is running or hot. This can ignite the gas or fumes and cause serious injury. It’s also important to never operate the machine in an enclosed area. Don’t start your snowblower inside a garage, shed or any other enclosed area as this can increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning—even if the door is open.
- Avoid the engine - Take care to avoid touching the engine with any exposed or bare skin, as it can get hot enough to burn flesh.
- Watch the Snowblower Power Cord - When using an electric snowblower, make sure you’re always conscious of where the power cord is at all times.
- No tampering - If safety devices, shields or guards on switches are present, then never tamper with or remove them.
- Keep Children Away - Never let children under the age of 15 operate a snowblower unattended. It’s recommended to keep children under the age of 15 away while snowblowers are in use.
- Know Your Machine - Make sure you’ve read and understand your snowblowers instruction manual before using the machine. It’s important to be familiar with specific safety hazards and unfamiliar features of your snowblower. Never attempt to repair or perform any maintenance on your snowblower without reading your instruction manual.
Tips for Snow Plow Safety
When considering snow plow safety, it doesn’t only apply to the snow plow operators. As a fellow driver on the road or as a kid having fun in the snow, it’s important to be aware of the risks posed by snow plow snow removal.
Snow Plow Safety Tips for Operators
- Make sure you’re well rested - Make sure you’re well rested before your shift. Most plowing shifts are done at night or the early hours of the morning. It’s important to make sure you’re well rested and attentive while plowing.
- Dress Appropriately - As a snow plow operator, it’s important to make sure you’re wearing appropriate clothing. Make sure to dress in layers because doing so will help you stay comfortable in the truck cab and will provide you with the additional insulation needed for when you step outside of your vehicle.
- Inspect vehicle and plow before plowing - Before you head out to plow, make sure to inspect your vehicle and equipment. Make sure your defroster and windshield wipers are functioning and that you have a pack of road flares in case of an emergency breakdown. We recommend keeping an emergency plow repair kiteasily accessible while on the road. These will have common replacement parts that may help you get back up and running in a pinch.
- Transportation - When transporting your plow between job sites, make sure you angle it to the right. Doing so will help you avoid making contact with snow banks that have built up along the side the road. Allowing your plow to make contact with a snow bank while driving can pull your vehicle into it. Never operate your plow while transporting it between jobs. We recommend turning off your plows controller to ensure that you don’t accidentally engage the plow while driving between work sites. Make sure your plow sits at a safe height while transporting. You want to ensure that it doesn’t impede your vision or your plow lights.
- Take it slow! - All plow operators must adhere to all local traffic regulations. With this in mind, it’s important not to exceed 40 mph while transporting your plow, even if the speed limit allows for it. Slowing down periodically while transporting your plow or while clearing the street is a good idea to help avoid traffic problems in hazardous weather. While actively plowing, make sure to not exceed 14 mph.
- Watch for overheating - Check your vehicles temperature gauge frequently while transporting your plow. Overheating the engine can lead to costly repairs and down time during the snow season. If you notice your vehicle starting to have continual issues with overheating, make sure you stop and try to correct the problem. If you notice your vehicle start over heating while transporting your plow, you should stop and adjust your plow to allow for better air flow to your vehicle’s radiator.
- Mark your turf - Before the snow, take a look at the areas you’ll be plowing. Keep an eye out for any obstacles that will be easily hidden in snow cover. Typical objects to watch for would include: bumper stops or speed bumps, curbs, sidewalk edges, shrubs, water drains, fire hydrants, fences and pipes that stick out from the ground. After finding all obstacles in the area you’re plowing mark anything that looks easily covered by snowfall with driveway markers
- Always look twice - Most snow plow operators find reversing to be a regular part of snow removal. Never rely on just the mirrors, always turn and look in the direction you’re driving. Some plow operators enjoy the extra visibility provided by rear observation systems. These are no replacement to actually looking where you’re going, but these systems offer better visibility where your mirrors fail.
- Know your surfaces - Being aware of the surface that you’re plowing is very important. If you’re plowing on dirt or gravel, you’ll want to lower the plow shoes. This will help keep your plows cutting edge raised enough off the ground to not scrape away the surface material. If you’re plowing asphalt or concrete, raise or remove your plow shoes to help your plow scrape as close to the surface as possible.
- Take Breaks - Driving in the snow for hours on end will eventually lead to driver fatigue and the white background of the snow covered landscape can begin to have a hypnotic and disorienting effect over time. Periodically stop and exit the cab and walk around. This is a good opportunity to get some fresh air, salt any walkways and to stretch. Doing this regularly will help combat driver fatigue caused by extensive driving in the snow, keeping you more attentive and alert.
- Rest the hydraulics - When you’ve finished plowing for the day and have returned home, make sure you lower your plow to rest it on the ground and turn off the plow control. This is not just for safety but also to remove stress from your hydraulic components while they’re not in use. If you’re planning on not using your plow for an extended period of time it’s recommended to un-mount it until you’re ready to plow again.
Snow Plow Safety Tips for Passenger Vehicles and Other Drivers
- Slow Down - Snow plows typically travel at a slower speed than most traffic, especially while plowing. Make sure you slow down when you see a plow truck in front of you.
- Be Alert - Snow plow operators have to stop more frequently to ensure that their lights are free of snow and ice buildup and are clearly visible. Make sure to leave additional space between your vehicle and the snow plow ahead of you to allow for more frequent unexpected stops. Watch for strobe lights in the street and on the side of the road. Whether a snow plow operator is clearing the streets or clearing a driveway, they should always have their strobe lights on.
- Turn your lights on - If you’re on the road with snow plow operators there’s a good chance it’s because it’s currently snowing—and possibly snowing pretty heavily. In these conditions, visibility is reduced. Turning on your headlights is important to make yourself visible on the road to snow plow operators as well as other drivers, even during daylight hours.
- Pass on the left - When passing snow plow operators it’s important to remember to always pass on the left. When snow plows are in use the angle of the plow deposits all the snow and any debris picked up by the plow on the right hand side of the vehicle. If you can’t pass the plow on its left hand side it’s recommended not to pass it.
- Keep your distance - When snow plows are in operation, they can create a cloud of snow behind them that will reduce visibility. Maintaining a safe driving distance behind any snow plow will help you avoid this.
Snow Plow Safety Tips for Children
- Keep a safe distance away from the street - Snow plow trucks are very large and require a longer distance to slow down and stop than most vehicles do. It can also be difficult to hear these trucks or any other vehicles approaching when enough snow has accumulated. Make sure you’re far enough away from the street to safely perform any activity. When sledding, make sure there isn’t a street at the bottom of your sledding hill. Playing in snow piles and building snow forts are always fun, but make sure you don’t do these activities near a road as they will make you difficult to see to drivers and snow plow operators.
Snow removal is an annual task for many of us and can be very physically demanding. Whether you choose to shovel, snowblow or plow this year, make sure you dress appropriately, stay warm and follow these tips to make sure you stay safe out there this winter.