This winter...protect your fingers, hands and arms

January 05, 2001

This winter...protect your fingers, hands and arms

By KEVIN CLAPP / Staff Writer

Safety procedures

These safety procedures should be taken to avoid snowblower-related injuries when the machine is jammed, according to American Society for Surgery of the Hand:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Turn snowblowers off before trying to clear any blockages.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Disengage the clutch.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Wait five seconds after shutting the machine off to give impeller blades a chance to stop rotating.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Always use a stick or broom handle to clear impacted snow.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Never put your hand down the snow-throwing chute or around blades.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Keep all shields in place and never remove safety devices on the snowblower.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Keep hands and feet away from all moving parts.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Concentrate when using the snowblower.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Do not drink alcohol before using the snowblower.


The winter storm that blitzed the Northeast New Year's Eve weekend missed the Tri-State area, but weather can be unpredictable. You never know when a major storm will drop six inches of snow on the ground.


When that happens, residents will fire up their snowblowers to clear driveways, or chainsaws to clean up downed trees.

That's when they will be susceptible to accidents that can lead to serious injuries to fingers, hands or arms.

Most are freakish, unlucky breaks that can't be foreseen, let alone prevented. However, there are things that can be done to lessen the likelihood of a trip to the emergency room.

"It's not pure carelessness because people might just be tired or sometimes people do get distracted," says Dr. Richard S. Milford. "More frequently, I think it's a case of people doing something but they haven't taken the time to think about what they're going to do. You're trying to give people a sense to stop and take a breath, to think before doing something."

Expectedly, the middle, index and ring fingers are most often injured in accidents, but the percentages with which they occur vary dramatically.

The middle finger is hurt 78 percent of the time, according to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand. In contrast, the index finger is injured in 46 percent of accidents and the ring finger in 32 percent.

More often than not, men with an average age of 44 are hurt, and it's the dominant hand that is either cut or severed. Dr. Thomas Gilbert, chair of emergency medicine at Washington County Hospital, says the emergency room may only see one or two snowblower or chainsaw-related injuries a month.

When accidents happen, people need to get help quickly. If a finger or hand is severed, Gilbert says it is best to get the patient and the part to the hospital within an hour to start reattachment if that's an option. People should wait no longer than six hours to start reattachment.

Severed limbs should be placed in a plastic bag and put on ice. Putting them directly on ice can injure the finger or hand.

Unfortunately, not every limb can be reattached, Milford says.

"It's going to depend on the condition of the part and how the part was cut off whether or not it can be reattached or used," he says. "But it doesn't hurt to bring it in."

The colder it gets, the more likely the chance of injuries.

"The hands can become numb from the coldness," Gilbert says. "You don't have good control of the equipment because of that."

As a result, he stresses that people should wear protective gear such as goggles and gloves, and to use common sense.

"Take extra time to be careful," Gilbert says. "If it starts getting too cold, go in and get warm before going back out."

Drs. Gilbert and Milford, as well as Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel insist that taking your time when operating machinery is key to preventing injuries.

Christoffel says he has used a chainsaw for 25 years and follows its instructions "religiously."

"Every one of those manuals has a great section on safety," he says. "Just follow it."

The Herald-Mail Articles