Be safe shoveling, snowblowing after a big storm
CAPITAL REGION When the sky finally clears today and it’s time to start clearing away the snow that fell over the past 24 hours, think before you start shoveling vigorously or try to clean that clogged snowblower with your hand.
Shoveling, especially for a person who is out of shape or older, can be very strenuous exercise.
“If you are feeling any pain, not just chest pain but pain in the arm, shoulder or jaw, stop shoveling,” said Katherine McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association of the Capital Region.
And if you think someone is having a heart attack, there are things ordinary people can do.
“We are huge advocates of learning CPR,” McCarthy said.
But simple, hands-only CPR can also save lives.
“Call 911 and push hard and fast in the center of the chest,” McCarthy said. “The compressions keep the blood flowing” and can save the person’s life, she said.
Snowblowers annually cause more than 3,000 finger injuries, including amputations, with most injuries occurring when operators use their hands to clear snow from the discharge chute or debris from auger blades, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Dr. Richard Uhl, chief of the Division of Orthopedic Surgery at Albany Medical Center, who specializes in hand surgery, said most finger injuries caused by snow blowers involve the fingertips to the first knuckle. In most cases, the fingertip has been damaged too severely to re-attach it, he said.
“The No. 1 most important thing to remember is: Don’t ever stick your hand in any opening in a snowblower. Always use a stick, such as a broom handle, to clear out any snow,” Uhl said in a statement.
Even if the machine appears to be turned off, never put your hand down the chute or near the intake blades, he said.
Most snowblower injuries occur when the snow is wet. The heavy, sticky snow clogs the chute and because the motor appears to be stalled users think it’s safe to put their hands in the chute to clean out the snow. But removing the snow clears the jammed blades, which then suddenly kick back into action and cause traumatic finger injuries.
The American Heart Association also cautions people to avoid sudden cold-weather exertion.
“Everyone who must be outdoors in cold weather should avoid sudden exertion, like lifting a heavy shovel full of snow,” reads a statement from the group.
People who are outside for prolonged periods of time should also be able to recognize symptoms of hypothermia, which can be deadly. These symptoms include lack of coordination, mental confusion, slowed reactions, shivering and sleepiness, the statement says.
The association also recommends avoiding alcohol before heading outdoors. Alcohol consumption and physical activity in hard winter weather can increase the likelihood of hypothermia.
If your power goes out and you want to use a portable generator to power some of the home’s appliances, never use the generator indoors or outside near windows, vents or air intakes that could allow poisonous carbon monoxide created by the generator to enter the home.
Carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless and is hard to detect until it’s too late, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.
The institute recommends home and business owners install a carbon monoxide detector to warn of rising levels.
Portable generators should not be “back fed” into a home electrical system by plugging the generator into a wall outlet, the institute says.
“Back feeding will put you and potentially others, including utility line workers, at serious risk because the utility transformer can increase the low voltage from a generator to thousands of volts,” an insurance institute statement says.
The institute also has safety guidelines for how much snow a home’s roof can sustain. Between 10 and 12 inches of fresh snow is equal to one inch of water or about five pounds per square foot of roof space, so you could have up to four feet of new snow before the roof will become stressed, according to the institute.
However, just 3 to 5 inches of old, packed snow is equal to 1 inch of water or about 5 pounds per square foot of roof space, so anything more than 2 feet of old, packed snow could be too much for the roof to handle.
“Two feet of old snow and 2 feet of new snow could weigh as much as 60 pounds per square foot of roof space, which is beyond the typical snow load capacity of most roofs,” the institute says.