Snow can be annoying for some people, but it can also be a blessing.
It brings moisture and acts as insulation for water and sewer pipes.
Problems with snow come when we travel and when we try to perform other day to day activities.
Snow also can create additional chores to our lives.
Some of those chores can be dangerous.
Cardiologists say shoveling large amounts of snow for just a few minutes can significantly can boost the heart rate and blood pressure.
These increases can be equivalent to those achieved while running to exhaustion on a treadmill, health experts say.
This may help explain the rise in heart attacks seen annually during the winter.
Individuals at risk of heart disease, particularly smokers and those with high "bad" cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, must be very cautious, experts warn.
Even healthy people need to worry. Individuals who are completely healthy and in excellent physical condition also are injured while shoveling snow.
Back and muscle strain are major concerns.
Shoveling snow - especially wet snow - is strenuous work and should be approached slowly and deliberately.
Health experts offer some tips to help get a handle on safe shoveling:
- If you have a history on heart trouble, don't shovel without a doctor's permission.
- Take the time to do some back stretches before you begin.
- Push the snow as you shovel. It's easier on your back than lifting the snow out of the way.
- Don't pick up too much snow at once - scoop up half shovelfuls or less.
- Rest frequently, every two or three minutes.
- Lift with your legs bent, not your back. Keep your back straight. By bending into the movement, you'll keep your spine upright and less stressed. Your shoulders, torso, and thighs can do the work for you.
Others rely on their snow throwers to clear the snow from the sidewalks and driveways.
If precautions are not used, some may be sent to the emergency room.
Nationally, thousands of people wind up in the emergency room each year with broken bones and/or severed fingers because of accidents with their snow throwers.
Such accidents usually occur as the operator tries to unclog a plugged discharge chute with his hand.
Nothing softer than a stick or a small shovel should be used to remove impacted snow from a discharge chute, safety experts say.
"Whenever a problem with the snow thrower develops, shut off the engine and wait for all moving parts to come to a stop," said Howard Doss, Michigan State University Extension safety leader. "Only then should the operator proceed to remove the snow or object - ice stone, piece of wood, sod, etc. - that may have stopped the rotation of the auger or impeller."
More than 80 percent of the annual injuries from snow throwers occur when the operator is removing heavy wet snow, and in nearly every incident, the snow thrower engine was left running while the operator attempted to remove the blockage.
Of the injuries recorded, 71 percent were to wrists, hands and fingers; 66 percent resulted in amputations, fractures or lacerations; and 9 percent required hospitalization.
About 85 percent of the injuries involved two-stage snow throwers.
For safe snow thrower operation, experts offer the following recommendations:
- Turn the engine off and wait for all rotating parts to come to a stop before attempting to remove the blockage. Never put your hand in the snow thrower discharge chute or near the auger/collector to remove snow, sticks or other debris.
- Keep the area of operation clear of other people. Do not aim the snow thrower discharge chute toward people, automobiles, windows or roadways. Sticks, stones, ice chips and other solid objects can be propelled by the thrower, often with quite a force over a surprising distance.
- Always turn the engine off and let it cool for five minutes before refueling. A hot engine could cause a fire or explosion if fuel is spilled.
- Store snow thrower fuel in an outbuilding that can be locked. Never store gasoline in the house or garage.
- Limit the size of the fuel resupply container to two gallons. A two-gallon container is easier and safer to handle than a larger container under wintry and slippery conditions.
- Make sure that the power cords to electric snow throwers are not worn or damaged, are kept clear of potential entanglements and are connected to a ground fault circuit interrupter outlet for shock protection.
- Work at a steady, methodical pace. Among the reasons for snow thrower accidents are rushing the job, fatigue and slipping on icy surfaces.