It’s supposed to snow this weekend. The forecaster assured us that this area wouldn’t have any accumulation this time, just flurries, but in my mind it marks the true beginning of winter. And winter to me means frigid temperatures, snow storms and shoveling snow, none of which I particularly love. Not only that, but researching for this article made me realize that I was tied to past bad habits and really didn’t know much about today’s snow removal products and techniques.
Growing up in St.Louis in the 1950’s, I did long hours of snow shoveling with a huge, heavy metal shovel and threw pound after pound of rock salt on icy sidewalks. Once snow had accumulated, plows periodically came by to dump more rock salt on the streets and then to push the salted snow up towards the curbs. (My father was always frustrated because the grass in the sections along the curb never seemed to thrive, no matter what he did. Now I understand why!)
Today’s snow removal experts have some timely advice to offer as the snow season approaches. Experts urge individuals to be aware of the very real health and safety risks when dealing with snow removal.
Nationwide research shows that every winter there are an average of 11,500 emergency room visits and 100 deaths related to snow removal. Injuries to the lower back are the most frequent, followed by injuries to arms and hands. Although cardio related injuries are only about 7% of the total number, they tend to be the most serious. Cardiovascular injuries are more likely to happen to men 55 years of age and older than younger people. Those already at-risk for cardiac problems need to be particularly aware of the strain that freezing temperatures combined with lifting hundreds of pounds of snow can place on the heart.
Many of the common injuries could be prevented by following some simple, common-sense guidelines.
- Stretch First – Warm muscles with bending and stretching first
- Push Rather Than Pull – Reduce stress on the body
- Bend Your Knees – Use legs to lift
- Take Breaks – Rest often (every 20 to 30 minutes)
- Drink Water – Stay hydrated
- Shovel Early – Reduce weight by shoveling lighter weight fresh snow
Just as in any project, having the right tool for the job makes the task easier and more efficient. In this case, it’s the right shovel. Consider replacing older model metal snow shovels with several new, ergonomic ones. Today’s shovels are designed for specific purposes, so having multiples covers a range of conditions . For example, a square-nosed shovel is good for scraping ice crusted snow, while a large sleigh shovel does an excellent job pushing light snow. There are several excellent online sites that give the pros and cons of different types of shovels.
The choice of ice melt also makes a difference. Several easy to apply, non-commercial products are available to the homeowner. Ice melt is best applied with a spreader, but can be applied by hand. Be sure and wear gloves! With any ice melt, It is important to follow directions as applying more than the recommended amounts can lead to problems later. Never use ice melt products on concrete that has been laid for less than one year as the ice melt will weaken the concrete. Many experts suggest sprinkling ice melt before a storm hits to increase its effectiveness. Consider applying sand, sawdust or kitty litter for traction on walkways and driveways.
Rock salt is probably the most commonly known product for pretreating and ice melting. Rock salt is inexpensive, commonly available and easy to apply. It works quickly, but it is also damaging to grass, plants, pets, concrete, asphalt, brick, stone and wood decks.
Calcium Chloride is another salt product. It works more quickly at lower temperatures than rock salt. It usually causes only minimal damage to concrete and asphalt, but still can damage grass, plants and pets, especially if it is over applied.
A third salt product is Potassium Chloride. It works more slowly than the previous salts, but is kinder to grass, plants, pets and concrete. It is also typically much more expensive.
Magnesium Chloride is another fast acting, effective ice melt when used according to directions. It tends to be a more environmentally sound choice and is kinder to plants. It can however, do significant damage to concrete. If over applied, it can damage plants and be lethal to pets.
Kids love playing in the snow! For most children, there is nothing better than building snowmen, having snowball fights and sledding down huge hills. Snow that has been contaminated with ice melt however, can have some risks, especially for young children, if ingested. Most of the time, the reactions are no more serious than a slight rash. If a child ingests pure ice melt, DO NOT HAVE THEM VOMIT. Instead, wipe out the child’s mouth and immediately call a poison control center before visiting the ER for instructions. Knowing what type of ice melt was used will help determine treatment.
Winter can be a challenge for pets too. It’s important to wipe animals’ paws after they spend time outdoors to remove traces of ice melt that remain. Some owners have snow booties for their animals or even have the fur between a dog’s toes to lesson the chanced that minerals remain there. Don’t allow animals to drink from puddles or lick the ice melt. Ice melt can be lethal to animals when ingested.
No matter how carefully snow removal is done, it is inevitable that ice melt will cover grass, beds and plants. For areas that do become contaminated, consider replacing the top layer of soil in the early spring, before plants begin their new flush of growth. Alternately, thoroughly soak the area with an inch of water three or four times in the early spring. Proactively, plant shrubs behind a “push zone” to allow for snow removal.
If the idea of shoveling snow again this winter becomes overwhelming, there is another alternative. To lesson your load, consider hiring a professional snow removal company. Here are eight questions to ask before you sign a contract:
- What services do you provide?
- What materials do you use?
- What equipment do you use?
- What type of safety training do you provide?
- How experienced is your crew?
- What insurance do you have?
- What is your turn-around time?
- How much does your service cost? How is the cost determined?
No doubt about it. Snow season is upon us! Whether you are hiring an expert company or being a “Do- It Yourself-er,” take time to rest, relax and enjoy the season safely.