With the snow and ice heading in tonight, please remember to use caution and pay attention if using a snow blower. Each year I treat patients who reach in to clear blocked snow or ice from their snow blower with unfortunate consequences. Even if the machine is turned off, the blades can stick under tension and suddenly release when the blockage is removed, severing fingers in the process.

Snow blower injuries include fractured bones, cuts to skin and soft tissue, and serious bruises or sprains. In more than 10 percent of injuries, the snow blower amputates the user’s hand, fingers or both.

Fortunately I’m often able to reattach and/or restore movement to a patient’s fingertips with microsurgery, which uses microscopes and precision instruments to enable transfer of tiny blood vessels, nerves and tissue from one part of a patient’s body to repair an injury in another part.  But accident prevention is certainly best. Based on accidents I’ve treated, some tips to avoid a snow blower hand injury are:
•   Keep hands and fingers out of the snow blower mechanism whether it’s running OR turned off. Follow the snow blower’s manual for tips on removing stuck objects safely.
•   Take advantage of safety devices built into most new-model snow blowers — do not disable them. Take time to review the key safety features in the owner’s manual.
•   PAY ATTENTION! Most snow blower accidents I’ve treated happened when the user’s thoughts were elsewhere or they were distracted.
•   Wear thick gloves — they don’t offer complete protection from injury, but may lessen the impact and are preferable to thin gloves or none at all.

For most of us, using a snow blower is not an activity that we do routinely, like driving a car. So put on your thick gloves, take a few deep breaths, and put all of your focus into running your snow blower. You’ll get the satisfaction of a job well done, and done safely.