Doctors warn about dangers of snowblowers

As the old saying goes, the weather outside is frightful, but there's nothing delightful about the accidents associated with winter.

"We always see this at the beginning part of the year as we have people who are not used to driving in the winter weather conditions," said Dr. Marc Conterato, emergency medicine physician for North Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Conterato says car accidents keep the emergency department busy this time of year, but that's not the only thing, even the act of removing snow from sidewalks and driveways with a snowblower can cause a variety of issues.

"What we typically see are hand injuries," Dr. Conterato said. "Usually it's fingertips, all the way up to the hand."

Dr. Conterato says they see about two dozen people a year injure their hands and feet on the blades of a snowblower when they try to clear a clog.

"It's when they clear that critical amount of snow or critical blockage, that's when they release the impediment to the blades spinning," he said. "And they will slice cleanly through gloves or boots."

For advice on how to avoid that, we turned to the mechanics over at Robbinsdale Marine. 

"We've probably seen 250 snowblowers already," said Paul King, a service technician at Robbinsdale Marine. "We took over a hundred snowblowers in last week."

They know a thing or two about how the machines run and how to operate them safely.

"The No. 1 rule is, shut the unit off," King said.

Yet even then, the blades could move, so the next step is to remove the ignition key.

"So good idea, pull your key out, make sure it's out of the unit, then you won't have to worry about it accidentally starting," King said.

And finally, use a stick to clear the clogged blades.

"A lot of the units are coming with unclogging sticks like this one here," King said as he held up a stick. "So we can get that up in here, using something like this to get in here and clean things out with the unit off."

Just a few simple tips to avoid a trip to the emergency room. 

Meantime, doctors say if you do lose a finger or toe, it's still possible to salvage it — wrap it in a paper towel and pour water over it to keep it moist, before heading to the hospital.

Delane Cleveland

Dec. 10, 2013 


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