Snowblower Injuries

The snow swirls around the porch corner. "It's a good storm, the weather guy says it’ll go all day and into the night."   While the wind has not died down, its face numbing effect  seemingly halts as the sun peeks out from behind the gray white mass of clouds looming to the west. For although it is an early morning sun, seasonally low in the sky, there is still enough heat on his face to make the task ahead seem palatable Taking no chances that the morning will be less harsh than its been all ready, he starts the engine and the snow blower is readied for its winter premiere. The rotors turn and augers set to work on the heavy wet snow that is now at least 7 inches deep. The added heat of the new day and the extra push needed to keep the intake chute in place tells this him that the task ahead will be difficult even with this time tested machine.  Nonetheless he attacks the job with a mental image and plan.  He is almost thoughtless as the motor whirs and he realizes how cold he really is.  At the end of the driveway the impeller suddenly seizes up. He is at least a hundred yards from the utility shed and the wind is picking up. He glances back to the garage but the driveway for the moment is an arctic wasteland and he's got miles to cross.   " Just a quick brush of a finger into the packed snow covered exit chute and then back to work. This’ll probably keep happening today " he knowingly thinks to himself. Turning the engine off, just in case, the snow is cleared. But several feet later with the sun now glaring off the top of the lawn, the machine clogs again. Machine off, glove on , like a well rehearsed mantra as his hand reaches just little deeper this time, "Just a bit more to go to clear this  thing." The machine starts with a jump. "Is the engine off?", speaking to no one except himself . In that instant there  is just a dull  thud, a tug and a push on his middle finger, then the pain comes, not severe but  pain.  Then for a second shorter than his next thought he realizes that something is wrong.  The pain comes in  unremitting waves  somewhere past his wrist. "Hey! My glove got stuck." He pulls it off quickly to check his hand and sees the blood, bone and a grotesque distortion where a finger tip used to be...

Each year in New England and all around the world people suffer amputations and mutilating injuries of their hands from improperly using a snow blower. The biggest misconception is that the auger located at the intake end of the snow blower poses the greatest hazard. When in fact it is the impeller, a small piece of rapidly turning metal in the exit chute that causes most injuries. As snow clogs the outflow chute, the impeller whose job it is to send that snow high up into the air, suddenly stops. The operator usually does not expect that there is a chance of injury from clearing a clogged outflow chute. As the finger loosens the snow, the impeller rapidly starts to spin again causing damage to anything that is in its way. Even with the machine turned off, by a seemingly knowing and experienced user there can be torque left in the system and the impeller can still spin rapidly once cleared causing injury. Some machines seemingly have caused injury despite claims that "all safety precautions where followed." Forgetting though the most important one: not placing fingers in the harms way

*Injuries usually occur in males, with an average age of 44 years. The dominant hand is involved in 90% of injuries and the middle finger, being the longest, is involved most frequently. Nevertheless multiple finger injuries are often seen. The usual injury is amputation or severe injury of the distal phalanx, the part of the finger that includes the nail and the most sensitive part of the finger for touch and manipulation. Injuries can be devastating in terms of medical costs as well as social and economic ramifications. Amputated parts in general are poor candidates for reattachment or replantation, the crushing avulsing force of the amputation causing irreparable harm to the neurovascular structures that would need to be repaired for survival.

Heavy wet snow averaging greater than 6 inches deep associated with temperatures or 28 degrees Fahrenheit or more are the most common weather conditions. associated with these injuries If sticks or similar device are used to clear snow they must be strong enough to avoid fragmentation or eye injuries can result.

Recommendations for safe use of a jammed snow blower include:

  1. If the snow blower jams, immediately turn it off.
  2. Disengage the clutch.
  3. Wait 10 seconds after shutting off to allow impeller blades to stop rotating.
  4. Always use a stick or broom handle to clear impacted snow. The stick must be strong enough to avoid breakage or eye injuries can result from flying fragments.
  5. Keep all shields in place. Do not remove any safety devices on machine.
  6. Keep hands and feet away from moving parts.
  7. Keep a clear head, concentrate and DO NOT drink alcoholic beverages before using a snow blower.

As  physicians dedicated to the care of the Hand and Upper extremity we want to inform the public concerning the perils and pitfalls of improper snow blower use.  Physicians, nurses, allied health professionals and therapists who deal with these injuries live in fear of the first heavy wet snow of the season. Invariably injuries are seen despite general knowledge that these injuries occur.

News organizations and weather services can help. Conditions that are associated with a higher incidence of injuries, hay wet snow exceeding 6 inches of accumulation and temperatures above 28 degrees Fahrenheit offer good opportunities to provide warning for the public. We need your help to reduce the incidence of these preventable injuries.

Let others know of this problem. Remind your colleagues, friends and neighbors when you see them outside. Lets put an end to these devastating injuries.

More Snowblower Facts

Canadian inventor, Arthur Sicard invented the snowblower in 1925. The Montreal based inventor sold his first, "Sicard Snow Remover Snowblower" as it was called, to the nearby town of Outremont, in 1927. The invention consisted of three sections; a four-wheel drive truck chassis and truck motor, the snow scooping section, and the snow blower with two adjustable chutes and separate motor. The snowblower allowed the driver to clear and throw snow over 90 feet away from the truck or directly into the back of the truck and it worked on hard, soft or packed snow.

Arthur Sicard was born in Saint-Léonard-de-Port-Maurice, Quebec on December 17, 1876. He died on September 13, 1946.