Safety Rules to Avoid Snow Blower Injuries

With substantial amounts of snowfall predicted for parts of the country, many people might be thinking about bringing out their snow blowers this weekend. But, David Shapiro, M.D.,  explains that snow blowers are responsible for more than 5,000 serious injuries every year.

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CLEVELAND – Many of us might think we’re saving our backs and our time by ditching the shovel and firing up the snow blower after a big snowfall.

But according to Cleveland Clinic’s doctor David Shapiro, M.D., snow blowers cause more than 5,000 serious injuries every year.

He said that many people don’t realize that turning off the motor on a snow blower to unclog snow doesn’t mean that it’s safe to put a hand inside.

“Either there will be some stored energy in the impeller, which is the second blade that throws the snow, or on some of the very old ones there will still be compression in the engine, even after the motor is turned off,” said Dr. Shapiro. “When you suddenly unblock that clog of snow, it just shoots out like a missile and it’s essentially like a blast injury to the fingers.”

Dr. Shapiro said most snow blower injuries occur on the hands and can range from cuts and lacerations to full-blown amputations.

He said heavier, wetter snow is more likely to cause injury, because it’s the type that often causes a blockage in the machine.

Regulations have made recent models safer by including mechanisms that require a person to have their hand on the control at all times to make the machine operational.

And new snow blowers are also now required to come with a stick on the front that is specifically for clearing clogged snow.

Still, Dr. Shapiro said people will find ways around this, which can set them up for a very bad accident.

While almost all snow blower related injuries are preventable, Dr. Shapiro said accidents are always possible; so it’s important to get help immediately if an accident occurs.

“If you do get an injury, the first thing to do is carefully assess your injury; take the gloves off; bandage the fingers as best you can and depending on the magnitude of the injury, head to the emergency room,” he said.

Dr. Shapiro said most times, injuries happen to people when they let their guard down. So even if a person has been using a snow blower for years, he said it’s important to follow the rules every single time to avoid a devastating injury.

“It’s very important to follow the rules – they’re there for a reason and they do make a difference,” he said. “It’s not typically the novice snow blower user who gets injured, it’s the person who’s been using it for five or ten years, has considerable experience with it and may think that they can get away with something that they didn’t think they could get away with when they first got the machine.”

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