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Snow clearing at work: How to avoid digging out from a costly claim

Winter is in full swing, and so are our bodies when we get down to digging. Snow removal truly can be ‘backbreaking’ work. With sprains and strains among the leading type of workplace injuries and overexertion being the primary cause, it is important your workers are physically fit for duty before arming them with a shovel. If not, their injury will be on your dime.

Who shouldn’t be shovelling snow?

Clearing snow is physically demanding work, but one that may get overlooked in the world of occupational health and safety because we only perform this work certain times of the year. However, workers who take on this task are at a higher risk of hurting themselves if they have existing health problems, injuries, or are older. Also, if they have had a previous heart attack, have a family or personal history of disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, are a smoker, or lead a sedentary lifestyle, they are more susceptible to injury (back, shoulder and neck strains are most common) or worse (heart attack or stroke). The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers advises anyone who fits the above criteria consult a physician beforehand. Realistically though, most people won’t do this on their own accord and won’t think twice about the risks before picking up a shovel. If there is any doubt about your worker’s ability to perform the task, you should have them properly assessed.

How do I determine if my workers are fit for snow clearing duties?

A comprehensive physical exam will take into account your worker’s health history (occupational, medical, family, lifestyle, etc.) and will include a cardiovascular, respiratory, and head-to-toe musculoskeletal assessment to determine if there are any areas of concern. DriverCheck’s occupational medical exams will also include a structured neurological assessment, including an upper and lower reflex and back fitness evaluation, and an assessment of balance and coordination. This medical exam will help you determine if your worker is physically fit to perform the work.

In cases where the worker’s position also requires other physically demanding work (i.e. maintenance crews), we recommend physical abilities testing. This assessment tests the physical capabilities of your candidate or worker through specific job simulation tasks based on the bona fide requirements of the job. During an evaluation by DriverCheck, we consider physical demand level and frequency (ex. occasional or constant) of the tasks involved.

Heavy snow shouldn’t be taken lightly. Mitigate the risks by using proper techniques.

For those workers deemed capable of taking on snow clearing duties, there are techniques that can help minimize the risk of injury or illness. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) says the recommended rate for continuous shoveling tasks is considered to be around 15 scoops per minute. Tasks involving continuous shoveling at this rate should not last for longer than 15 minutes at a time, followed by a rest break of at least 2-3 minutes in optimal weather conditions and up to 15 minutes for very cold weather. Proper diligence and care should always be taken. See more useful tips for safe shovelling.

Do you follow the proper techniques? Who is responsible for snow shovelling at your workplace? Join the discussion by posting a comment or reaching to us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.