Using a shovel

Judging from the state of affairs along the east coast of the United States, it appears that images of despair will continue to confront us on the television screen for some time.

What is also clear from the news reports is that this disaster has brought out a high level of compassion among ordinary people who volunteer their time and energy to assist those impacted directly by Sandy.

What is quite clear, however, that if commonsense and prudence are not applied to the effort to lend assistance, then the helper could soon find him or herself in need of help – medical help.

And in that is a lesson for us in this part of the world, as we watch on and try to pick up tips that will be of value to us when our day of disaster comes ‚ and come it will.

American, for instance, have to be conscious of proper clothing as they work in the open in freezing temperatures. For us in Barbados, the exact opposite condition can be equally dangerous. It is of vital importance that when persons undertake manual labour in our temperatures, adequate breaks for rest and rehydration must be observed.

Over-exertion is one of the dangers health authorities also warn about, particular since in the United States it is the third leading cause of unintentional injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms.

Most over-exertion injuries are the result of lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, or carrying.

To prevent over-exertion experts suggest:

* Stretch and/or warm up before heavy lifting or strenuous activity

* Lift with your legs bent and hold objects close to your body

* Avoid bending, reaching, and twisting when lifting

* Ask a friend for help when lifting

Since cleaning up debris is almost always a major task after a storm, one of the tools most often used is a shovel. But if a person is not accustomed to using one routinely, again it is also possible to suffer accidental injury.

It is therefore recommended that individual practise ergonomic lifting techniques.

* Always face towards the object you intend to lift (i.e. have your shoulders and hips both squarely facing it).

* Bend at the hips, not the low back, and push the chest out, pointing forward. Then, bend your knees and lift with your leg muscles, keeping your back straight.

* Keep your loads light and do not lift an object that is too heavy for you.

* If you must lift a shovel full, grip the shovel with one hand as close to the blade as comfortably possible and the other hand on the handle (handle and arm length will vary the technique).

* Avoid twisting the back to move your object to its new location — always pivot your whole body to face the new direction.

* Keep the heaviest part of the object close to your body at your centre of gravity — do not extend your arms to throw the contents.

* Walk to the new location to deposit the item rather than reaching or tossing.

When gripping the shovel, keep your hands about 12 inches apart to provide greater stability and minimise the chances of injuring your low back.

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