It's the start of a major snow event.
You get a call: "Hey, Boss. Joe was using that old shovel and he threw his back out."
Joe is lying in the snow on a client's driveway, groaning. The whole crew is at a standstill, not getting any work done as they try to take care of Joe. The problem isn't Joe - he's a good worker, he's smart, and he's well trained.
Your snow equipment needs an upgrade.
The best snow shovels will prevent injuries that cost you both time and money, and cause a great deal of pain for your employees. Here's how to pick the right one for your snow removal business:
Why You Should Buy the Best Shovels
You visit a construction site, and you notice something funny about the working cars driving around the lot. Instead of cranes and pickups, the Contractors are driving a fleet of Honda Civics.
- Instead of a Pickup, they're using a Camry to haul around 10' lumber.
- Instead of a crane, they're winching rebar up to the second floor with a Prius.
- Instead of a cement truck, they're mixing concrete in the trunk of a Honda Civic.
See what's wrong with this picture?
Snow shovels are the same. Just because a shovel is passable for a homeowner to shovel their drive once a week doesn’t mean that it’ll work for your crews’ needs 10 or 12 or 14 hours a day during a snow event.
The right shovel is one that limits the impact on your employees’ bodies. Shoveling for hours is intense work. Even with good form, it's hard on your back. Some shovels are designed with this in mind: they have ergonomic handles and are made of lightweight materials.
Better design (curved handles, lightweight materials) are more expensive. However, they will improve your employees’ well-being AND your profitability.
When your employees use a better shovel, they avoid a lot of the strain on their back. That means they can work harder, longer.
A great shovel will prevent your employees from quitting due to back problems.
Choose the Right Tool for the Job: What Shovel does What
Blade size and shape:
- 30” Plow-style - Best for pushing or scraping.
- 24” Plow-style - Biggest for true shoveling, can do double-duty as a pusher. Good for shoveling powder.
- 18” Plow-style - Best for shoveling packed, wet snow. A smaller, lighter shovel-load helps protect employees from trying to lift too much snow.
- Aluminium Scoop - It won’t rust. Not really good for pushing or serious shoveling, good for breaking up big drifts or riding down a hill.
- Square Nose - Good for scraping frozen layers of snow off of sidewalks and driveways.
- Round Nose - Good for breaking up the frozen berm at the base of snowplow drifts.
- Scraper - When a square-nosed shovel can’t break the ice, pull out the big guns (or in this case, the smaller, blade-like gun).
Shaft and Handle Design:
- Straight - The traditional shaft. Good for pushing and minimal usage tools (scrapers, square/round nose, 30”, etc.) Not ideal for lifting.
- Gooseneck - A straight shaft that curves like a goose neck. This is good for medium-use equipment. You can do some shoveling with it, though it gets hard on the wrists. It keeps you from hunching over when pushing or scooping.
- Curved - A shaft that curves in the middle. This reduces hunching and is ergonomically easier on your back. Your heavy-use shovels should use curved handles. They allow for the most efficient shoveling and ease the physical toll of that shoveling.
- D-Grip – available on any of the above shafts, a D-Grip lets the user absorb the shock of shoveling into their palm and gives them greater control over the load of snow.
- Wood - Heavy, commonly used in cheaper shovels.
- Aluminium - Doesn’t rust, lightweight, rigid. Watch out for scraping decks and other soft surfaces, if you’re using an aluminum-bladed shovel.
- Plastic - Lightweight, but less rigid. Common in plow-style shovels. Plastic-bladed shovels will not scratch or gouge softer surfaces.
- Fiberglass - Lightweight, rigid, expensive. It has less give than plastic and is lighter than metal, making an ideal, if expensive, material for handles.
The Best Snow Shovels for Your Snow Business
There’s an extensive write-up (complete with links to academic research into the ergonomics of shoveling for snow nerds to dive into) on TheSweetHome that justifies the following recommendations:
Best All-Around Shovel:
True Temper’s 18” Ergonomic Mountain Mover - The handle is metal, curved and features an oversized D-Grip for gloved hands. The blade is plastic with a nylon strip; it starts flat for pushing and falls into a scoop for, well, scooping. The shovel is decently light at 3lbs.
The All-Around Runner Up:
Bully Tools’ 22” Combination Snow Shovel - The handle is fiberglass, straight (but extra long) and features a D-Grip. The blade is plastic and definitely lends itself to pushing, rather than scooping. It lacks any leading edge, but TheSweetHome’s extensive testing found the shovel to be exceptionally durable even without one. It’s heavier than the True Temper at 3.6lbs but if you need to replace a shovel midseason, these will be easier to locate than the True Tempers.
Bully Tools’ 92813 Snow Pusher - The handle is fiberglass, straight (again, extra long) and features a D-Grip. It has a 27” plastic blade with no leading edge. It weighs 4.85lbs but that’s less of a factor with a pushing shovel (you’re not lifting it as often).
Expect to spend around $30 per shovel. Don’t balk at the cost right away, consider the cost-benefits of a more efficient, less strained crew. Happy employees are faster employees. Faster employees are more profitable employees.
Bonus: High-Usage Shovel Tip
You can purchase an additional handle for high-usage shovels. It may not be necessary for powder, but with heavy, wet snow you may find it a lifesaver.
Hardware stores sell bolt-on assist handles that go midway down the shovel handle. They keep you closer to upright which reduces back strain. TheSweetHome’s analysis recommended TrentCo’s ProHandle as the most durable solution. It’s designed for straight-handled shovels but fits on the True Temper curved handle recommended above. They go for ~$20, though you may be able to find cheaper alternatives.
Shovels are Like Shoes
They are the foundation of your snow business. You can walk around in anything, you can even walk around barefoot even if it’s not the best option.
But sometimes you need work boots with steel-toes to get the job done correctly and safely. Choosing the right shovel, one designed with ergonomics and ease of use in mind is like lacing up the right pair of boots in the morning before a long day’s work.
If you wear the wrong shoes, maybe ones that aren’t waterproofed or have poor arch support, you’re going to be miserable by the end of a snowy work day. If you use the wrong shovel, you’re going to be just as miserable and may end up with long-term damage.