Snow Shovelling Can Cause Heart Attacks

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If you haven’t already had your first snowfall of the season, just wait – it’s coming. And that means someone in your workplace is going to have to shovel it. Shovelling snow is hard work, especially when the snow is wet and heavy. And if you don’t ensure that workers tackle this job properly, they could get injured—or even have a heart attack.

No, snow shovelling causing heart attacks isn’t an urban legend. In a recent study, reported on in the New York Times and published in the journal Clinical Research in Cardiology, scientists tried to ascertain whether the link between heart attacks and snow shovelling was real or exaggerated. They reviewed patient records from two winters at Kingston General Hospital in Ontario and pinpointed 500 patients who arrived at the hospital with heart problems.

Over all, roughly 7% of the patients were shovelling snow when symptoms began. About two-thirds of them were men (with an average age of 63) and they were highly likely to have had a family history of premature cardiovascular disease.

The scientists say that 7% is significant and said the number may actually be much higher, because many patients may not have mentioned that they were shovelling snow at the time their symptoms started.

In another study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that most heart attacks from shovelling snow result from heavy physical exertion causing trauma to coronary arteries, which ruptures plaques that cut off blood flow.

Snow Shovelling Tips

So how can you protect workers from having heart attacks this winter? Give workers these shovelling tips from WorkSafeBC:

Before You Begin

  • Warm up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise or stretching
  • Check with your doctor before shovelling if you have a medical condition or don’t exercise regularly
  • Dress in layers

Shovel Early & Often—Newly fallen snow is lighter than heavily packed or partially melted snow.

Pushing Snow

  • Keep the shovel close to your body
  • Space your hands on the shovel to increase leverage
  • Shovel an inch or two off the top of the snow
  • Use a shovel that feels comfortable for your height and strength

Lifting Snow

  • It’s better to push the snow rather than lifting it—but if you must lift the snow, lift it properly.
  • Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight
  • Lift with your legs…don’t bend at the waist
  • Scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel and walk to where you want to dump it

Pace Yourself—Take frequent breaks and replenish fluids to prevent dehydration, which affects muscle movement. Shovelling snow is an aerobic activity.

Don’t:

  • Hold a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched – it puts too much weight on your spine
  • Remove deep snow all at once
  • Throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side, which requires a twisting motion that stresses your back
  • Use a shovel that’s too heavy or too long