The New York metropolitan area recently got its first significant snow of the season and while it is not unusual to see snow in January, it is significant as it was part of a system that impacted much of the country. Winter Storm Helena started out pounding the western portion of the United States before heading south and barreling up the east coast. There were a number of fatalities and injuries as a result of this intense storm.
Locally, some areas of Queens and Long Island received up to a foot of snow. While the snow can be beautiful and peaceful when it is falling, it cannot stay on the streets and on the sidewalks once it stops. Cities, towns, and other municipalities are responsible for snow removal in public areas and roadways, but it is up to home- and business-owners to make sure it is removed from the sidewalks in front of their properties. That means getting out the shovels or snow blowers.
Unfortunately for many people, this activity can result in serious injury. In 2011, the American Journal of Emergency Medicine published the results of a study that found on average 11,000 people were hospitalized per year as a result of injuries caused by shoveling snow. The most common injuries are back injures caused by lifting the heavy snow, heart issues caused by overexertion, and slip-and-fall injuries. Shoveling snow can be very strenuous depending upon the amount and type of snow. Many people try to shovel as quickly as possible in order to get out of the cold. Unfortunately, this attempt at shortcutting can have serious consequences.
According to experts, you can alleviate some of the stress on your back by using a good shovel and picking up smaller loads of snow. Use your legs instead of your back when lifting, and avoid twisting at your waist to reduce the chance of an injury. Shovel straight ahead to minimize excessive movements, and don’t throw the snow over your shoulder unless you are training for a fitness magazine cover. Take frequent breaks to hydrate and to get warm. Slipping and falling on ice and snow can result in broken bones and other serious injuries. It goes without saying that slip-resistant footwear is a necessity.
Shoveling snow is an aerobic activity that raises your heart rate. Combined with the cold temperatures, it can lead to deadly heart problems. While only 7% of snow injuries were related to heart problems, the majority of the fatalities were heart-related. If you have a heart condition, heed your doctor’s advice regarding strenuous activity. Death can occur to those tasked with the responsibility of shoveling snow while on the job as well. Some employees are directed to remove snow not just on the sidewalks, but on roofs and other structures. In 2012, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) issued a hazard alert as a result of 16 preventable workplace fatalities that occurred in a span of 10 years. The majority of these deaths were as a result of falls from heights.
Needless to say, precautions need to be taken for both home owners as well as workers. However, if you are on the job, there are steps you need to take if you are the unfortunate victim of an injury. First, seek immediate medical treatment. Make sure you notify your employer within 30 days and file a claim with the New York State Worker’s Compensation board within two years. Your employer has Workers’ Compensation insurance for wage replacement and medical treatment so you should not pay anything either out of pocket or through your own private insurance. The winter season can be fun but it can also be dangerous for you and your friends and co-workers. Help out your elderly neighbor, invest in a good shovel, wear appropriate clothing, and be careful out there. Snow is beautiful, but it can also be dangerous.
Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.
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