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Could shoveling snow lead to a workers' comp injury?

If your job involves physical labor, there's a chance that one of your wintertime job duties could include shoveling snow.

Here in northern Illinois, that can be a daunting task. Whether it's clearing a narrow path to the doorway of a convenience store or shoveling a much larger area, snow is heavy. Even walking through heavy drifts takes exertion.

But medical research has shown that shoveling snow can take more exertion than working out on a treadmill on its highest level. As not everyone is a fitness buff, this activity can cause a heart attack.

All the strenuous exercise makes your heart rate and blood pressure increase dramatically. At the same time, the freezing air constricts blood vessels, decreasing the oxygen to your heart. This is a very dangerous situation.

Those most at risk of suffering heart attacks from snow shoveling include employees:

-- With elevated cholesterol and blood pressure

-- Already diagnosed with heart disease

-- Who lead sedentary lives

-- With histories of previous myocardial infarctions

-- Smokers

Those with one or more of the above may want to discuss their situations with their physicians and employers to see if a compromise can be arranged that won't lead to on-the-job fatalities.

If there's no way of avoiding the task, keep these tips in mind:

-- Refrain from smoking or drinking coffee afterward for an hour or more.

-- Try to warm up prior to starting by doing some quick calisthenics.

-- Take 15-minute breaks as needed.

-- Don't eat right before tackling the snowdrifts.

-- Layer your clothing to avoid overheating.

-- Use smaller shovels to clear smaller loads rather than big, heavy ones.

-- Cover your mouth, as cold air can bring on asthma or angina.

-- Be alert for symptoms of an imminent heart attack — dizziness, lightheadedness, burning or tightness across the neck, chest, back or arms.

If you suffer injuries or a worsened condition shoveling snow on the job, you may be able to qualify to receive workers' compensation benefits.

Source: Metro Health, "Cold Weather Snow Shoveling and Your Risk for Heart Attack," accessed Dec. 16, 2016

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