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Hand injuries, muscle strain and overexertion are as common as the snow that falls this time of year. But it doesn't have to be that way. Proper use of snow removal equipment can reduce injuries and keep you safe. Consider these tips.

Snow shoveling is the most common method of snow removal. Lightweight, aluminum shovels work best, and a long handled, square-ended shovel works well to remove ice from concrete surfaces. Reduce strain on muscles and joints by partially filling the shovel rather than heaping it full. If you have thick crusts of ice over concrete surfaces, you may need to use a metal bar to break the ice and/or apply a chemical snow and ice melt.

The majority of commercial ice and snow melting chemicals are formulated so they are not harmful to concrete. However, these chemicals stimulate the frequency of the freeze-thaw cycle and this can damage unsealed mortar, new concrete or concrete surfaces that are cracked, porous or aggregated. Follow the manufacturer's directions when applying these chemicals to driveways and walkways.

Powered snow removal equipment is especially helpful, but can inflict serious injury to people and property if not used properly. Inexperience is a frequent cause of accidents. Read the operator's manual and heed instructions for safe operation and prevention of injuries and accidents. Remember to wear eye protection. Hearing protection should be worn if engine noise is excessive or the equipment will be operated for long periods of time. Check fuel and oil levels, and learn how to quickly stop the snow blower and shut off the engine. Newer models are equipped with improved safety features and increased engine horsepower for better snow removal and reduced clogging. Newer models have levers that must be engaged from the operator station in order for the machine to function.

Areas where snow will be removed should be cleared of sticks, rocks, water hoses, tools, toys and other debris. Snow removal equipment can throw snow more than 20 feet, and solid objects, such as rocks or ice chunks, can travel three times that distance. Be cautious when operating snow blowers in reverse. Operators may easily slip or trip and could back over themselves or become pinned.

Snow blower accidents and injuries occur most often when a hand or other object is placed in the discharge chute. If the discharge unit becomes clogged, turn the engine off and use a wooden dowel or plastic rod to remove snow. Do not use hands to remove the blockage. Even with the engine turned off, the discharge unit may spin when clogged snow becomes dislodged.

To prevent clogging, do not overload the equipment. If snow is heavy, walk slowly with the snow blower, and/or remove a narrow strip of snow with each pass. Keep the discharge unit turning at high-speed. When operating, the snow blower's discharge chute should always be directed away from people, animals, vehicles and other property that could be damaged by flying debris. When removing snow from an inclined surface, travel up and down the slope rather than across the face of the slope. A slope that rises more that three feet with each ten feet of horizontal travel is too steep for snow removal equipment. Be cautious when changing directions on a sloped surface. It is easy to lose control of a snow blower when it is leaning.

Under windy conditions, throw the snow with the wind. The wind will help disperse the snow and prevent it from settling on cleared areas. When removing snow from a gravel driveway, set the blades an inch or more above the gravel to prevent it from being launched through the discharge chute.

Be cautious when refueling. Keep snow blowers and fuel away from flames, sparks or excessive heat. Store fuel in a ventilated area and allow the engine to cool before refueling.

Consider age, maturity, and physical ability when permitting older children to operate snow blowers. Children should not operate snow blowers unless they are closely supervised and the terrain is free from hazards.

Remember to dress properly when working outdoors. Wear snug fitting clothing in layers and sturdy shoes that provide traction on icy surfaces. Pay close attention to cold temperatures and your level of exertion. Do not work to the point of exhaustion, and remember to take frequent rests indoors. 

By Richard Beard, Utah State University Extension Specialist