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February 13, 2007
Residents urged to take care when shovelling snow
City of Toronto EMS paramedics urge all Toronto residents to exercise caution and common sense when shovelling snow.

“Every year our paramedics have to deal with preventable deaths from apparent heart attacks related to snow shovelling,” said Bruce Farr, Chief and General Manager of Toronto EMS. “For certain people, snow shovelling may be the trigger for this sudden and silent killer. Healthy middle-aged or older men and women may be at increased risk when attempting to shovel, especially when the snow is wet and heavy.”

Shovelling is a strenuous activity with physical effects equivalent to intense treadmill running. Cold weather and snow shovelling work independently to increase blood pressure and heart rate making the combination deadly.

Inhalation of cold air can trigger constriction of the coronary arteries, diminishing oxygen supply to the heart. The increase in heart rate and blood pressure can dislodge fragments of cholesterol plaques from blood vessel walls that can lead to clots, reducing oxygen supply and possibly a heart attack.

If you are over 40 years of age and have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol, or if you are a smoker, overweight or lead a sedentary lifestyle, you are at risk of a heart attack every time you shovel snow. If possible, consider buying a snowblower or hiring someone to shovel for you until you can improve your health and reduce your risk of suffering a heart attack.

If you decide to shovel, do warm up exercises outside (vigorous walking and some stretching) to increase your heart rate gradually and allow your body to get accustomed to the cold. When you shovel, start gradually, and avoid heavy lifting by shovelling small amounts of snow at a time. Bend your legs so that you use large muscle groups to avoid back strain. Use a small, light plastic shovel. Pace yourself and take breaks when you feel tired or out of breath.

Stop if you experience any of the following feelings or sensations:
• pressure or crushing pain in your chest, some sweating, nausea or vomiting
• pain that starts in your chest and extends to your jaw, left arm or left shoulder
• tightness in your chest
• any abnormal or prolonged shortness of breath
• a feeling of “heartburn” that can mimic a heart attack.

“Do not delay in calling 9-1-1. Stop what you are doing immediately and rest. Your life may depend on it,” added Farr.

The City of Toronto provides mechanical sidewalk snow clearing in most parts of the city, however, there are a few areas where equipment is unable to clear sidewalks - mainly in the downtown core area.

For seniors and the disabled living in areas where the City is not able to clear sidewalks, call the City of Toronto at 416-392-7768 to apply for this service. Please note, the service applies to the sidewalk in front of your home only and does not include driveways or walkways leading to homes.

For more information, see the snow shovelling safety video at and for further shovelling safety tips, visit

Toronto is Canada’s largest city and sixth largest government, and home to a diverse population of more than 2.6 million people. It is the economic engine of Canada and one of the greenest and most creative cities in North America. In the past three years Toronto has won more than 50 awards for quality and innovation in delivering public services. Toronto’s government is dedicated to prosperity, opportunity and liveability for all its residents.

Media contacts:
Dean Shaddock, Co-ordinator, Community Medicine Program, 416-338-0473
Larry Roberts, Co-ordinator, Media Relations and Communications, 416-392-2255



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