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Published February 08, 2013, 12:00 AM

Prairie Fare: Here’s the scoop on safe snow removal

“Am I in trouble?” my husband asked as we stood in the darkened entry of a restaurant waiting for a table. He was looking down at his dark brown winter coat. “What happened?” I asked.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service

“Am I in trouble?” my husband asked as we stood in the darkened entry of a restaurant waiting for a table. He was looking down at his dark brown winter coat.

“What happened?” I asked.

He stepped into the light and I saw a fairly large hole near the lower pocket of his winter coat. I had bought him the coat for a birthday gift a couple of years ago.

He had been in a hurry to get to a meeting, but a snowplow had left a wall of snow at the end of our driveway. He was doing some quick snow removal and ran out of gas in the snowblower before he could complete the job.

“I turned off the snowblower and bent over to get the gas can. I got too close to the muffler,” he said a bit sheepishly.

I looked at the melted hole in his thigh-length jacket. I visualized him running around the yard in a flaming coat. He assured me no flames were involved.

“That’s now your ‘everyday jacket’ for snowblowing,” I said.

“The stores will have coats on clearance soon,” he added. He’s kind of practical and frugal.

I thought of much worse things that can happen during snow removal.

Snowblowers or snow throwers are linked to more than 6,000 emergency room visits, according to a report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. While sprains and strains often accompany snowblower accidents, many injuries involve the hands and fingers. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, 3,000 hand injuries, including 283 finger amputations, were reported in a 1999 study.

To avoid snowblower injuries, keep all safety guards in place, don’t use your hands or feet to unclog snow in the auger, and don’t disable the “dead man’s switch.” This required safety feature turns off the motor if you were to slip or lose your grip on the machine. Be cautious of the muffler, which can become very hot and pose a burn hazard for children and adults. Protect your eyes and ears with goggles and ear protection.

Be sure to keep children and pets clear of snowblowers because, in addition to snow, these machines throw rocks, sticks, ice and other objects. Steer the chute away from windows, too.

Be cautious about what you wear. Be careful about loose clothing, long scarves or long hair, which could become entangled in the moving parts.

If you have to deal with snow but lack a snowblower, shoveling is another option that also doubles as physical activity. However, shoveling puts stress on the heart. Consider these additional health and safety tips when you are removing snow.

- Avoid caffeine or nicotine before beginning to remove snow. These are stimulants, which may increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict. This places extra stress on the heart.

- Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is just as big an issue in cold winter months as it is in the summer.

- Dress in several layers so you can remove a layer as needed. Synthetic fibers help wick away perspiration better than natural fibers. Be sure to wear boots with slip-resistant soles.

- Warm your muscles before shoveling by walking for a few minutes or marching in place. Stretch the muscles in your arms and legs because warm muscles will work more efficiently and be less likely to be injured.

- Pick the right shovel for you. A smaller blade will require you to lift less snow, putting less strain on your body.

- Begin shoveling slowly to avoid placing a sudden demand on your heart. Pace yourself and take breaks as needed.

- Protect your back from injury by lifting correctly. Stand with your feet about hip width for balance and keep the shovel close to your body. Bend from the knees (not the back) and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow. Avoid twisting movements. If you need to move the snow to one side, reposition your feet to face the direction the snow will be going.

- Most importantly, listen to your body. Stop if you feel pain.

You can find more information about snow shoveling safety in “The Scoop on Snow Shoveling Safety” available at http://www.ag.

ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/fitness/fn1518.pdf.

After your winter workout, you might enjoy a hot beverage. Here’s a make-it-yourself mocha to enjoy as you look out your window at your accomplishment.


Café Mocha

1 cup nonfat milk

1 cup coffee (decaffeinated or caffeinated)

4 tablespoons hot chocolate mix

Nonfat whipped topping and cinnamon (optional)

Heat milk in saucepan or microwave oven until warm; do not boil. Add coffee and hot chocolate mix. Stir well and heat to desired temperature. Divide coffee mixture between two mugs. Top with nonfat whipped topping and cinnamon, if desired. Note: You can substitute 1 cup of water and Zc cup nonfat dry milk powder for the milk.

Makes two servings. Without whipped topping, each serving has 180 calories, 1 gram (g) of fat, 38 g of carbohydrate, 9 g of protein and 180 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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