Smooth Shoveling

How to properly shovel (and save your back) this winter

December 6th 2019
By: Carrie Whitfield

Even if you hire someone to plow your driveway, there are often locations that still need to be cleared by hand. 

My first tip would be to hire a neighbor kid. It’s a great way to teach young kids to work hard and a good way to get to know the kids in your neighborhood. This can also be a bonus later in life when they might be looking for a house to egg. It might not end up being yours due to those fond childhood memories. Pro-level tip: Paying them well will increase the fondness of those memories.

If you don’t have access to or can’t afford a snowblower, or to pay some neighborhood kids, and you are bent on shoveling by hand, I recommend starting with a bent shovel. When a tool can bend for you, why make your back do it? Every year tools are being made, and improved, which allow us to work smarter instead of harder. 

If the snow is light and fluffy, use a larger shovel to move more snow with less repetition. If the snow is heavier, use a smaller shovel. It may take a little longer with a smaller shovel, but you’re back will thank you in the morning.

Before you get to work don’t forget to stretch, drink plenty of water, and remind yourself to take breaks. 

Here are some other great tips that will help your post-shoveling body feel like you took a nice trip to the gym rather than feeling like it was run over by said plow truck.

  1. Start by being dynamic!
    If you keep your feet planted while you shovel, you may end up with unnecessary, and often painfully, twisting your spine. Keep your body moving in a positive way by pointing your feet in the direction you will be moving before you move your upper body. This will help you avoid as much spine twisting as possible. If you are shoveling to the right, put your right foot back (toe pointed right) before moving your upper body. If shoveling to the left, move your left foot back.

  2. Help avoid hand fatigue.
    Rather than gripping with your pointer finger or thumb, try primarily using your other three fingers. It feels weird at first, but if you relax your hand (shake it out!) then just grip with the other three fingers you’ll notice that your thumb muscle is fairly relaxed when using this technique and you likely won’t be begging your significant other for a hand massage after you’ve finished the driveway.

  3. Break eye contact with the load.  
    It’s easy to continually focus downward while performing tasks below us. It’s important to give your neck a break. Any time you lift you should be looking forward, not down. 

Shoveling snow is similar to lifting boxes or other items from the ground, except it may be more repetitious and you might have to do it all winter long. In order to make it through the winter, I recommend focusing on what tools can do for you and continually think about how your body feels as you work. Everyone is different and not every tool works for every task or person the same.  

When else might you use these tips to get the job done safely?

About Carrie Whitfield

Carrie Whitfield joins ASA with 12 years of experience supporting Alaska’s oil and gas industry, both on and off the North Slope. Since 2009, she has specialized in construction and operations health, safety and environmental training development and delivery, as well as compliance-database administration and project-turnover coordination. Carrie holds a Construction Health and Safety Technologist (CHST) certification and other training certifications. Prior North Slope experience includes field safety on Point Thomson, Skid 50, various pipeline-renewal projects and construction-turnover coordination.

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