SHOVEL SAFELY: Experts urge caution when shoveling snow


Braden Swift, 16, scoops snow from a neighbor’s sidewalk Thursday as his neighbor, Mike Cook of Greenfield, watches from inside. Swift, a sophomore at Greenfield-Central High School, was encouraged by his strength teacher to spend part of his time e-learning on Thursday helping a neighbor, grandparent or someone else who could use some help shoveling snow.

HANCOCK COUNTY — Greenfield-Central High School football coach Travis Nolting had one simple assignment for his strength training students on Thursday when they were taking classes online due to the snow: help out a neighbor, grandparent or someone in need by shoveling snow from their driveway, porch or sidewalk.

What could be a simple task for teens could be a life-threatening chore for older neighbors, even those in middle age.

“Most guidelines say you shouldn’t shovel snow if you are 55 or older, but some recommend 45 and older,” said Craig Felty, vice president of patient care and chief nursing officer at Hancock Regional Hospital.

“Colder air coupled with the intense exertion of shoveling snow causes increased heart rate, blood pressure and increased risk of cardiac events, especially for those with underlying medical issues,” he said on Wednesday as the snowstorm rolled into town.

Those who don’t play it safe could end up with far bigger problems than a snowy driveway, said Felty.

Roughly 25,000 emergency room visits are attributed to snow shoveling each year in the United States, he said, including 100 deaths.

“It is important to know your limits,” said Joshua Willis, assistant chief and public information officer for the ​​Shirley Fire Department.

“Cold temperatures cause vasoconstriction which can raise blood pressure and narrow coronary arteries. This combined with the exertion of the shoveling increases the risk of a heart attack. If you are going to shovel snow, it is best that you take frequent breaks, stay hydrated and listen to your body,” he said.

While the Shirley Fire Department hasn’t had any medical runs in recent memory resulting from someone shoveling snow, Willis said it’s critically important for everyone to to be safe and strategic when clearing their driveways and sidewalks — especially with the type of accumulation that has fallen across Hancock County this week.

“Wet snow is much harder to shovel because of the weight. It is always a good idea to push the snow, rather than lift it, and use proper body mechanics,” he said.

Felty also advises to take it slow when snow shoveling.

“Regardless of age, you should take it slow and listen to your body. Take frequent breaks, dress in layers, keep hydrated and immediately stop if you experience any (discomfort or distress),” he said.

Felty said the safest way to shovel is to take it 20 to 30 minutes at a time with adequate rest breaks in between.

It’s also wise to stay ahead of the snow during big snowfalls, he said, going out to shovel a couple inches at a time throughout the day rather than waiting until a big snowfall has accumulated.

“That’s especially important when there’s wet or heavy snow,” he said.

Willis said those with underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, should especially play it safe when it comes to shoveling snow.

“In general, back injuries and cardiac events are the most commonly reported incidents associated with snow shoveling. It is always advisable to discuss snow shoveling with your physician, especially if you have underlying conditions,” he said.

Felty said there’s no shame in being cautious when it comes to clearing away snow and recommends those 45 and up consider using a snowblower or enlisting the help of a teenager to do the job.

Debra Weber, executive director for Love INC of Greater Hancock County, said her nonprofit often gets calls requesting help with snow removal after every big snowfall.

“Unfortunately, we do not have a current list of volunteers to do snow removal, but we do our best to find a resource for them. Last year, we had an individual with an impassable long driveway that needed food resources, and we were able to find a volunteer with a plow to clear the snow, but that is not a resource we have readily available,” she said.

“If the individual attends a church, we may check with that church to see if anyone is available. At times, we will get information about a young person willing to shovel driveways and sidewalks, so we may pass along that information to the neighbor in need.”

Those willing to volunteer to help with snow removal, whether by shoveling or plowing snow, are encouraged to contact Weber at [email protected] or (317) 468-6300.


Since multiple inches of snow have fallen across Hancock County, the sound of snowblowers and shovels scraping across driveways has become a familiar sound.

Yet healthcare experts and first responders urge caution when heading out to clear the fluffy white stuff away.

Snow shoveling accounts for roughly 25,000 emergency room visits, including 100 deaths, each year in the United States, said Craig Felty, vice president of patient care at Hancock Regional Hospital.

The American Heart Association states that the risk of a heart attack during snow shoveling may increase for some, since the combination of colder temperatures and physical exertion increases the workload on the heart.

The National Safety Council website states that “sudden exertion, like moving hundreds of pounds of snow after being sedentary for several months, can put a big strain on the heart. Pushing a heavy snow blower also can (also) cause injury.”

Individuals over the age of 40 or who are relatively inactive should be particularly careful, it says.

To stay safe, the council recommends the following guidelines when shoveling snow:

—Do not shovel after eating or while smoking.

—Take it slow and stretch out before you begin.

—Shovel only fresh, powdery snow; it’s lighter.

—Push the snow rather than lifting it.

—If you do lift it, use a small shovel or only partially fill the shovel.

—Lift with your legs, not your back.

—Do not work to the point of exhaustion.

—Don’t pick up that shovel without a doctor’s permission if you have a history of heart disease. A clear driveway is not worth your life.

—Know the signs of a heart attack, which can include chest discomfort and shortness of breath, among other things. Stop immediately and call 911 if you’re experiencing any of them; every minute counts.

The safety council points out that pushing a heavy snow blower can also cause heart strain, and recommends the following tips from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons:

—If the blower jams, turn it off.

—Keep your hands away from moving parts.

—Be aware of the carbon monoxide risk of running a snow blower in an enclosed space.

—Add fuel outdoors before starting and never add fuel when it is running.

—Never leave a running snowblower unattended.