Digging Out Safely
Last winter was a record-breaker for Indianapolis, when we received 55.4 inches of snow, only the second time in history that Old Man Winter delivered more than 50 inches of the white stuff to our city. I don’t have any facts or figures, but I’m guessing sales of snow blowers and snow throwers were also at record highs. And with winter once again blowing into town, it’s time to talk about snow blower safety. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates 5,740 emergency room visits a year involve snow blower injuries, including broken bones, cuts, bruises and sprains. About 10 percent of these injuries involve amputation of the hand or fingers.
These tips for safer snow blowing were gathered from Consumer Reports, American Family Insurance, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and we urge you to read and follow this advice:
- Read your owner’s manual and make sure you know how every control works and what safety features are built into your machine. If you don’t have the manual because you misplaced it or you purchased used equipment, contact the manufacturer. Many user manuals are available online.
- Never wear loose pants, jackets, or scarves, which can get tangled in a snow blower’s moving parts and pull you in with them.
In December 2013, a woman in Grand Forks, North Dakota, suffered severe injuries to her leg and foot after her pants leg was caught in a snow blower’s blades. The fire department had to cut some of the snow blower’s metal blades in order to extract her leg.
- Wear earplugs or other hearing protection, especially with a gas-powered model.
Using a snow blower can cause hearing loss because they can emit sounds as loud as 106 decibels, which are only safe for exposure up to three and 3/4 minutes at a time. Cotton in the ears will not work, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Assn. Hearing protection, such as earmuffs or earplugs, can be purchased at drugstores, hardware stores, or sports stores.
- Before the snow gets too deep, remove doormats, sleds, boards, wires, newspapers, and anything else from the area you’ll clear to avoid clogs and damage to the machine, as well as injury from flying debris.
- Don’t let children operate a snow blower. And keep people and pets far away from the vicinity in which you are working.
A 7-year-old girl was injured near Denver when she fell in front of a snow blower being run by her mother. She had been hit by snow or ice discharged by the machine, which caused her to lose her balance and fall into the path of it. She hit the edge of the snow blower and suffered cuts to her head and leg.
- Protect yourself from carbon-monoxide poisoning by starting and running a gas-powered snow blower outside, never in a garage, shed, or other enclosed area—-even if the door is open.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a typical two-cycle snow blower can release nearly a pound of carbon monoxide for every hour it runs. To match that amount of carbon monoxide, a car would have to be driven for about 70 miles.
- For an electric model, use an outdoor extension cord rated for your model, connected to an outlet with ground-fault-circuit-interrupting (GFCI) protection. Make sure the cord is in good condition and be sure to keep it safely away from the spinning auger while working.
A Missouri man died after he tried to blow snow off his driveway with an electric-powered leaf blower. An inspection revealed the extension cord he was using had cracks in it.
- Turn off the engine of a gas snow blower or unplug the cord of an electric model before clearing a clog at the auger or discharge chute. Use a clearing tool or a broom handle to clear the clog—never your hands or feet, even if you’re wearing gloves. And wait at least 10 seconds after turning off the engine to try to clear a clog.
Colorado Avalanche hockey player Joe Sakic was using a snow blower that became tightly packed with snow. He turned it off and reached inside the auger to clear it. Sakic ended up with three broken fingers and severe tendon damage to one of them, an injury that contributed to his forced retirement. On Valentine’s Day of 2014, a New York woman found the wet snow was clogging the chute. When she reached in to open the chute, the auger kicked into action, severing one finger and part of another and breaking her wrist. Most newer snow blowers come with a plastic rod that can be used to clear the snow chute and auger, but the one this woman was using was an older model that did not have that.
A 2012 University of Arkansas study found “rotational force” that builds up behind clogged augers can allow them to spin a quarter to a half-turn when snow is cleared, even when an operator presence switch, or “Dead man’s switch,” has been invoked and the power to blades is cut off.
- Keep all shields in place and never remove or disable safety devices.
- Exercise caution when clearing sloped surfaces.
- Clear snow by operating the snow blower up and down the face of slopes, not across the face. To avoid overturning, be careful when changing the direction of the snow blower while operating it on a slope. A slope that rises more than three feet with each ten feet of horizontal span is too steep for snow removal equipment.
- Do not refuel a gas snow blower while the engine is hot or when it is running, to avoid igniting the gasoline.
Many people are injured by snow removal equipment every year because of their own negligence. However, many suffer injuries because the machine was defective, was inadequately labeled or did not include sufficient warnings, or because it malfunctioned. If you or your loved one is hurt this winter while using an electric or gas-powered snow removal machine, contact McNeely Stephenson at 1-317-825-5200 to discuss your rights to compensation from the manufacturer and retailer.