10 Tips to Safely Remove Snow and Ice

Thousands of snow removal injuries occur each year. These tips will keep you, and others, safe this winter.

driveway covered in snowGROVEB/GETTY IMAGES

Whether you’re pushing a snow blower or shoveling by hand, there are risks and dangers involved with snow removal. Between 1990 and 2006, snow removal contributed to 100 deaths and 11,500 emergency room trips each year, according to an American Journal of Emergency Medicine study.

Read on to learn how to complete this necessary winter task without hurting yourself. You might also consider hiring someone to remove snow.

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Young Man Exercising While Wearing Warm Clothing During Winter
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Stretch

Snow shoveling is physically demanding. Like any strenuous activity, you should stretch your muscles properly before you start.

Stretch your upper and lower body, including your back and core. Arm, shoulder and leg swings, along with back rotations, are important exercises before snow removal, according to Barclay Physical Therapy, which includes instructions on its websites.

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Ergonomic Shovel
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Make Sure You’re Using the Right Tool

Not all snow removal equipment is built the same. An ergonomic shovel with a bent handle reduces bending when lifting, which limits the stress on your back.

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50-year-old white man clearing snow from the area near his house
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Wear Protective Clothing and Gear

It’s imperative to wear gloves, a head warmer, long pants and long sleeves while snow shoveling. Prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can lead to frostbite, most commonly on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin, according to Mayo Clinic.

“In wind chill of minus-16.6 degrees … frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 30 minutes,” according to the Mayo Clinic website.

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Multi-generation family cleaning snow from back yard
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Take Frequent Breaks

Listen to your body. Shoveling a small front porch or deck might not be too strenuous, but a long driveway or sidewalk can tax your body. Stop if you feel any pain, and resume after rehydrating and warming up. Do not shovel snow if you have a history of heart health issues.

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Man with snow shovel facing large pile of snow, rear view
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Don’t Move Too Much Snow at Once

Snow shoveling isn’t a race. Lifting or pushing too much snow at once can strain your neck or back. It’s better to do smaller, more frequent lifting than to overload your shovel each time.

Here’s a handy snow removal hack: Use a leaf blower or shop vac to clear out as much snow as possible before finishing the job with your shovel.

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Snow removal, a man cleans the snow with a blue shovel near his house.
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Push the Snow Instead of Lifting it

There’s a right and a wrong way to remove snow. Pushing instead of lifting is less strenuous and more efficient. Use a deep shovel to scoop the snow and push it away, rather than lifting the heavy shovel high off the ground.

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Man shoveling snow in winter
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Lift With Your Legs, Not Your Back

Anyone who’s weight trained or lifted heavy moving boxes knows you always lift with your legs, NOT your back. Bend your knees to distribute the weight. Lifting heavy items with locked knees and a stiff back may result in a doctor visit.

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Fresh snow surface
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Shovel When Snow is Fresh and Powdery

When possible, shovel fresh, powdery snow while it’s still falling rather than waiting until the snow storm has passed. Fresh snow is lighter and easier to move.

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Man using red snowblower machine outdoor. Removing snow near house from yard
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Start Gas Powered Snow Blowers Outside

Gas powered snow blowers release harmful exhaust fumes. Start any gas-powered snow blower outside; even starting it in a garage with the door open is dangerous. Also, refuel the machine outside after it has cooled down, not in the garage.

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Canadian Man operates snow thrower on winter day in Canada.
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Be Cognizant of the Snow Blower Chute

Snow blowers are more powerful than many people realize, and they often pick up rocks and other small debris along with snow. Never point the blower chute at people, windows, vehicles, etc. One tiny pebble ejected with force can shatter a neighbor’s window — or one of yours.

Alex Shoemaker
Alex Shoemaker is a Florida-based journalist and  handyman who has extensive experience in home remodeling and house flipping. He has worked for numerous print and digital publications and has won awards for writing, photography and pagination.