The Ergonomics of Snow Shoveling

We have a lot of snow where I live. We just received about 50 cm (1.5 feet) of snow in the past 2 days. The dig out is just beginning for us. And, if you live north or south of tropical, I am sure that you have been in a similar snowpocalypse situation at least once this year. If not GRRRR! Anyway, one part of your entire (or holistic) approach to health and wellness should be managing the ergonomic risk outside of work. Snow shovelling presents many risks that must be managed for optimal health. I commonly see people using poor technique, poor equipment, or a combination of both. I believe the following advice will give you some serious value and a bright shining light of hope in your snow shovelling adventures!

The goal of today’s blog post is to provide you with:

  • The safest way possible to shovel snow, and
  • The pros/cons of the most popular types of shovels available today.

Why is this important to you?

Shovelling snow can be an incredibly strenuous activity and this can introduce a lot of ergonomic risk to people who are simply not used to it! The end result of a bout of snow shovelling  can be a lot of pain for many people. Research shows that snow shovelling can have negative health consequences including everything from lower back and shoulder injuries to heart attacks.

What you can do about it.

Using safe work practices and ergonomically-sound equipment will go a long way to preventing injuries from happening in the first place!

Proper Techniques

  1. Wear good clothing & equipment, including footwear that will not slip as well as warm/dry clothing
  2. Push whenever possible instead of lifting snow
  3. If you must lift snow:
    1. Keep loads light
    2. Try to avoid or limit twisting during the lift
    3. Keep the load close to your body
    4. Avoid throwing the snow long distances
  4. Use ‘optimal’ lifting techniques
    1. Keep the back straight; do not round or bend the back forward while lifting
    2. Bend from the hips and knees
    3. Position feed wide apart, with the front foot close to the shovel
  5. Pace yourself and take breaks when required!

Shovel Types

The type of snow shovel that’s best for you will depend on a number of different factors.

These include:

  • How much snow your geographic area usually gets,
  • Your personal health history/if you are in shape, and
  • Your personal preferences in shovel design.

Firstly, ensure that you invest in a good quality and light shovel. Next, take a look at these options below to determine which would be best for you.

Straight Shaft Shovel

Good for lifting snow

  • The straight shaft allows the user to generate torque to clear tall snowbanks when lifting

straight shaft

Curved/’Ergonomic’ Shovel

  • Good for pushing snow
    • The curved shaft allows you to push the snow along the ground in a neutral working posture
  • Due to its curved shaft design, it causes the user to raise their arms higher (placing more stress on the shoulders) to lift the snow
    • So, if you live in an area that is known to have lots of snow/tall snowbanks, then this shovel design can make it much more difficult to dispose of snow. This is because the curved shaft shovel design must be lifted higher to clear the tall snow banks

ergonomic shovel

Snow Scoops

  • Good for pushing large quantities of snow, however with such a large scoop there is tendency to push heavy, fully packed snow
  • Not recommended for lifting snow

large bucket

Straight Shaft Shovel with Accessory Handle

  • Accessory handle can be placed anywhere along the shaft for requirements of snow removal
  • When lifting snow, allows user to be in a more upright position, reducing the strain on the lower back
  • The technique and positioning of the second shovel may require some time to master

accessory handle

 

Question:

Which is your favourite shovel design and why?

 

Through the administration of countless assessments in both private and public sectors, Darcie has gained a wealth of knowledge and built a successful practice in the field of ergonomics. She has extensive expertise in conducting office ergonomics assessments in large scale workplaces for all different types of scenarios, from simple adjustments to incredibly complex cases. Darcie also has vast experience in delivering training presentations on the various aspects of ergonomics “best practices” in the workplace. Darcie is a Certified Professional Ergonomist through the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics, as recognized by the International Ergonomics Association. She also has a Masters of Science, specializing in ergonomics. A little known fact about Darcie is that she once scored from half, off a free kick, in a university varsity soccer (football) match!

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