February 6, 2014

Snowstorm means lots of shoveling and maybe health issues


---- — PLATTSBURGH — A storm that rolled in early Wednesday brought enough snow to thrill skiers but discourage people who had finally cleared their icy sidewalks.

The North Country didn’t get the massive amounts of snow that prompted a state of emergency in New York state.

But a solid 4 to 8 inches had covered this region by Wednesday night.

The snow was welcome at downhill-ski facilities in Wilmington, Malone, Saranac Lake and Beekmantown and at area cross-country and snowmobile trails.

But then there’s that whole shoveling issue, which has been a bear of problem with winter already after two ice storms and a number of other snowstorms.

Not only is clearing snow difficult, it can be a health hazard.

In a news release issued Wednesday by Cornell University, professor of design and environmental analysis Alan Hedge, an ergonomics expert, offered advice to avoid injury or even death when shoveling snow.

He noted that each year between 1990 and 2006, an average of 11,500 snow-shoveling-related injuries and medical emergencies were treated in U.S. emergency departments; 1,647 resulted in fatalities.

“Snow shoveling or snow pushing — it doesn’t matter which method one uses — is physically heavy work that is not suitable for people with cardiac risk factors,” Hedge said.

“Both activities push the heart rate up to 140 beats per minute. It’s a good cardiac workout for a fitness freak but fatal for those with cardiovascular problems.

“Don’t shovel barehanded.” he advised. “When snow shoveling, the extremities can get cold, which constricts blood vessels up to 30 percent, which also raises cardiovascular risks, so wearing warm gloves and footwear is important.”

He noted that shoveling increases the risks of other accidents. Slipping and falling account for 20 percent, about 2,400 per year. Lower-back injuries add up to about 4,000 accidents per year, and soft-tissue strains or sprains about 6,500.

Age can be a factor, too.

“On average, around 2,000 accidents per year occur in children under 18 years of age, so if you’re going to have your kids shoveling snow, watch them very carefully,” Hedge said. “Over 2,500 accidents per year happen in those over 55 years old.”

Hedge suggested people use shovels with an ergonomic design.

“Shovels with a D-shaped handle at a 30-degree angle significantly reduce physical effort. Bent-shaft snow shovels reduce lower-back joint loading during snow shoveling, which again reduces injury risks.”



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