Using a Shovel Safely: Despite Simplicity, Injury Awaits

Shoveling is quite a simple task, but it is important to realize that it places a great deal of stress on the back and shoulders. If done incorrectly, or too much weight is lifted, it can cause a chronic (over use) or acute injury (immediate).

When shoveling always use your legs for the lift, and keep your back as straight as possible. When digging the shovel into the material have one leg in front and use your legs to push the shovel. Lift the shovel with your legs. Turn using your feet (do NOT twist your back) so your entire body is now facing where you want to place the material. Do not throw the material as this can put stress on the shoulders.

Safety Precautions

  • Make sure a good quality shovel is used.
  • The shovel used should be designed for the material it is used on. e.g. a snow shovel for shoveling snow.
  • Do not shovel more than you feel comfortable, e.g. the shovel does not have to be full if the material is heavy.
  • If the material is wet, e.g. wet snow or soil after rainfall, it will be considerably heavier.
  • Use a shovel with a small scoop.
  • Do not shovel after a heavy meal.
  • Take the weather into consideration: If it's hot take breaks and drink plenty of water. If it's cold dress in layers and go slow.
  • If you are cold warm up first. Stressing muscles while the body is cold is a sure way to cause strains and sprains.
  • Take regular breaks, pace yourself.
  • If you are not fit, or not used to shoveling, or you have a heart condition, strongly considering asking someone else to shovel, or go extremely slow. It is not unheard of for people to have heart attacks while shoveling.
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