Doctors issue alerts about snowblower safety


man using snowblower

In the first New England snowstorm of the year a few weeks back, doctors raised the alarm about a spate of snowblower-related injuries they were seeing in local hospitals. It happens every year … the US Consumer Products Safety Commission says that more than 5,000 people visit emergency rooms each year with snow blower injuries. Most injuries involve the hands, ranging from cuts and lacerations to amputations. Experts say that with precautions, most snowblower injuries are preventable. And surprisingly, victims are not just first-time users – experience with the equipment doesn’t appear to be factor, injuries occur to highly experienced users, too. Dr. Shapiro of the Cleveland Clinic says:

Most times, injuries happen when people let their guard down. So even if a person has been using a snow blower for years, Dr. Shapiro says it’s important to follow the rules every single time to avoid a devastating injury.

“It’s very important to follow the rules — they’re there for a reason and they do make a difference,” he says. “It’s not typically the novice snow blower user who gets injured. It’s the person who’s been using it for five or 10 years, has considerable experience with it and may think that he or she can get away with something that they didn’t think they could get away with when they first got the machine.”

The frequency of injuries often is related to the depth and type of snow. Higher temperatures and wet snow were frequent factors. In an article in Boston.com – Doctors tell you how to avoid the emergency room this winter – Dr. Robert Partridge of Emerson Hospital says:

“When the snow is thick and has a heavy water content, it can jam the snow blower,” Partridge said. “Many people don’t realize that even after you turn the snow blower off, there’s some torque that remains in the impeller. If it’s off and you reach in and unblock it, it still has one last rotation to go.”

He adds:

“Manufacturers will tell you never to put your hand in a snow blower, even when it’s off,” Partridge said. “If there’s a blockage, people should shut the machine off and use a wooden stick to clear it. Some snow blowers even come with a stick for that purpose.”

He also offers the following advice:

“People shouldn’t wear scarves or other loose clothing when operating a snow blower,” he said. “Make sure young children are well out of the way. Make sure the walks and driveway are clear of newspapers and stones or anything else that can get caught in the snow blower. And never let a child operate a snow blower.”

The article also discusses other common snow blower-relate injuries, including shoveling injuries and hypothermia.

Consumer Reports offers a good list of commonsense tips for safer snow blowing

  • Never wear loose pants, jackets, or scarves, which can get tangled in a snow blower’s moving parts and pull you in with them.
  • Wear earplugs or other hearing protection, especially with a gas-powered model, which typically runs above the 85 decibels at which hearing damage can occur.
  • 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.
  • Don’t let children operate a snow blower. And keep people and pets far away from the vicinity of where you’re clearing.
  • 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.
  • For an electric model, use an outdoor extension cord rated for your model, connected to an outlet with ground-fault-circuit-interrupting (GFCI) protection. Then be sure to keep the cord safely away from the spinning auger while working.
  • 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. And use a clearing tool or a broom handle to clear the clog—never your hands or feet, even if you’re wearing gloves: A stationary auger and impeller are often under enough belt tension to harm hands and feet, even with the engine or electric motor off.
  • Wait until a gas model’s engine is cool before refueling to avoid igniting the gasoline.

See more tips on snowblower safety and snowblower maintenance:
Fire up that snowblower – don’t wait until the first storm hits

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Snowbirds: Tips for winterizing your home while away


illustration of older couple paccking a car in the snow to head for Florida

Will you be making a seasonal move south to weather out the harsh winter months in a more favorable climate? Whether you’ll be gone for a few days or a few months, if you are traveling over the winter, there are some home maintenance tasks you should tend to so that you don’t come home to unpleasant surprises.

No one knows better than an insurance company what the common winter home hazards and problems can be – after all, they deal with the claims damage every year. This excellent infographic is courtesy of Travelers, one of our Renaissance Alliance insurance partners. It offers a good checklist to help you secure your home for an extended winter absence. While some of the tasks are suitable to prep for a long-term absence, others are handy for shorter travel periods, too, such as a week over the holidays or a midwinter vacation.

Click for a larger version.

infographic with tips about how to winterize your home for extended travel

Related posts:

 

Holiday fraud: How to avoid seasonal scammers


polic lineup with santa, Rudolph the Reindeer and a pretty elf

If it’s December, it’s prime holiday fraud season!

Because it’s the busiest season of the year, scammers work double time to try to maximize their take. And as many times as we’ve issued warnings, thieves are very creative about thinking up sneaky new ways to separate you from your money. The Better Business Bureau is on the case. Here are some of the top scams they see around the holidays.

Delivery scams and package thefts this holiday season – While just plain old theft of shipped packages from your doorstep or workplace is common, there are a few other things to watch out for. BBB says that phishing emails pose as official notices from delivery companies. These either contain a “tracking link” or a message that the shipper is having difficulty delivering a package to you with a number to call. Or they affix fake “missed delivery” tags on your door, asking you to call a phone number to reschedule your delivery – all are just ruses to get your personal information.

Social media ad scams – Last year, the BBB found that online purchase scams were the most common cons reported to Scam Tracker and the category with the most victims, many involving Facebook and Instagram ads. Watch out for products claiming to support charity, free trial offers, counterfeit merchandise and apps of unknown origin. Social media is also a hub for illegal gift exchange pyramid schemes. BBB says these pop up every year with new twists. When an offer seems too good to be true, it almost always is.

Is that Santa App safe? Better check it twice. BBB says that the Apple and Google app stores list tons of holiday-themed apps: children can video chat live with Santa himself, light the menorah, watch Santa feed live reindeer, track his sleigh on Christmas Eve, relay electronic Christmas wish-lists, or play Hanukkah games like dreidel. But many of these are invasive and may violate children’s privacy laws in the information they collect. For more, see our post on protecting your kids from ID theft.

Don’t get scammed out of a gift card this season – the BBB says “Before grabbing a gift card for a favorite store or restaurant, know that thieves are just as eager to use these gift cards before they’re presented to the intended recipient. Also, some retailers have terms and conditions as to how the gift card can be redeemed.” See our post about new consumer protections for prepaid debit cards.

Tips for avoiding job scams this holiday season – Many of us are looking for extra money over the holidays and a part-time seasonal job is a common way to earn that cash. But it’s also a time when scammers exploit that desire. BBB reminds you that legit employers will never ask for payment upfront for a job. They say to be wary of big money for small jobs and job offers that don’t require an interview.

8 Tips for dealing with holiday pop-up shops – BBB receives hundreds of complaints a year about temporary retail locations, reporting everything from poor quality merchandise to difficulty obtaining refunds after temporary stores have closed their doors. Pop-up shops can be fun but follow BBB’s tips in mind if you choose to buy from one of them.

See more holiday safety tips from the BBB and use their Scam Tracker to identify common scams near you.

Here are prior posts about more common holiday fraud schemes:

 

New Massachusetts hands-free driving law to go into effect in February 2020


closup of sterring wheel and woman's hands holding a cell phone
You might have been distracted over Thanksgiving and missed the news: Massachusetts enacted a hands-free driving law, making Massachusetts the 21st state to ban the use of all hand-held electronic devices while driving. This follows quickly on a similar Maine law which went into effect in September. Other neighboring states — Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island — also have hands-free driving laws on the books.

The new Massachusetts law bans any hand-held device while driving motor vehicles and bicycles. There are limited exceptions to allow for emergency reporting provisions. The law will take effect until Sunday, February 23, 2020, 90-days after the law was enacted. For about the first month, first-time violators will be issued warnings, but after that, fines will apply.

In Massachusetts Has A Hands-Free Driving Law: Four Items Everyone Needs To Know, Agency Checklists offers more details on the law, including penalties for violation:

According to the terms laid out in the new Bill, a first-time violation with result in a $100 fine, a second offense will be a $250 fine, followed by a $500 fine for a third or subsequent offense. While a first or second offense is not categorized as a “surchargeable incident” under the statute, a third or subsequent office will be considered as such.

For more on the new law, see What You Need To Know About The New Distracted Driving Law In Mass.

Hands-free driving laws in the Northeast

Maine’s Hands-free Driving Law went into effect on September 19, 2019. It prohibits the use of mobile telephones, handheld electronic devices and portable electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle, unless specifically exempted by law. Violations will be subject to no less than a $50 fine for the first offense and not less than $250 for a second or subsequent offense. The Chief Judge set the fine amount of $230.00 for a first offense and $325.00 for a second and subsequent offense.

New York state has been on the forefront of the distracted driving issue since enacting the nation’s first statewide handheld phone law, which took effect in November 2001.

Connecticut has had hands-free driving laws since 2005, prohibiting the use of any hand-held mobile electronic device while operating a motor vehicle. Penalties range from $150 for first-time offenders to $500 for a third offense. Drivers may also be subject to demerit points on their driving record.

New Hampshire has had a hands-free driving law since 2015, prohibiting all motorists from using a handheld cellphone or other device to text message or talk while driving.

Rhode Island’s hands-free driving law went into effect on June 1, 2018. Drivers cannot hold a cell phone or other wireless device while operating a vehicle. The use of headphones or other accessories that cover both ears also is not allowed.

For laws in other states, the Governors Highway Safety Association offers a listing of Distracted Driving Laws by state (but note that most recent developments such as the MA law may not yet be reflected)

Shopping tips to avoid dangerous toys


Little boy playing with toy cars

Right now, Santa is checking his lists, but don’t leave it all up to him. If you are a parent or give gifts to kids, we encourage you to learn about common toy hazards so that you can sort out the naughty from the nice when it comes to toys. In 2018, injuries related to toys sent an estimated 226,000 kids to hospital emergency rooms, according to data recently issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. While stronger safety standards have significantly reduced the number of dangerous toys for sale over recent years, there are still problem toys that can hurt kids. If you are shopping for children’s holiday gifts, it’s important to be aware of the risks – particularly when shopping online.

The 34th-annual Trouble in Toyland report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund helps identify dangerous products and provides tips for parents and gift-givers. These annual reports have led to more than 150 recalls of unsafe toys, inspired legislation to strengthen toy safety and empowered parents to take key actions to ensure toys are safe. We’re offering  safety tips from the report but encourage you to visit the site at the link above and to download and read the full report. Also, check for toy recalls and follow Safety Alerts issued by the US Consumer Protection Safety Commission

Here are “What to watch for” tips from the Trouble in Toyland Report

  • Toys with sound – If a toy is too loud for you, it could be loud enough to damage your child’s hearing. Turn off the sound, remove the batteries or return the toy.
  • Slime – Some slimes contain high levels of toxic boron. Consider making homemade alternatives without borax, or monitor your children at all times. If your child ingests a slime product, call Poison Control.
  • Fidget spinners and toys marketed to adults – Some products, such as fidget spinners or children’s makeup, are not classified as toys and avoid certain safety standards. These products could contain higher levels of lead, choking risks and other hidden dangers. Avoid these “toys,” or watch your kids closely while they play.
  • Toys with small parts – Toys marketed to ages six and older may contain small parts that are choking hazards for younger children. Parents should check all toys for age guidelines. Before your child plays with a toy for the first time, see if smaller parts fit through a toilet paper roll — indicating they pose a choking hazard. Watch our video to learn how.
  • “Hatching” toys – Toys with break-apart packaging can become choking hazards for small children. Monitor your child while they open the packaging and promptly dispose of the pieces.
  • Balloons – Never let a child under three play with balloons, and monitor any child under 8, as balloons are the number one choking hazard for children.
  • Smart toys – Sites, apps, games and smart toys may be collecting private data from your child and exposing their information to hackers. Consider running these smart toys without connections to the internet, evaluating privacy policies when you first activate them, and monitoring your child’s use. Check out this guide for more info.
  • Makeup – We found asbestos in Claire’s makeup last year. Makeup lacks necessary safety standards, which is why we recommend avoiding these products for children, or at a minimum purchasing alternatives without talc, as it can be a source of asbestos.
  • Toys with small magnets -Swallowed magnets can cause serious internal damage by bunching together. Keep away from young children and monitor older children when they are playing with toys containing magnets.
  • Toy jewelry with toxic metals – Cadmium is a toxic metal that can be used as a substitute for precious metals in inexpensive jewelry, including dress-up jewelry marketed to young children. If your child is under six, watch them carefully to confirm that they don’t swallow a piece of jewelry, chew on the item, or put it in their mouths. Also, consider avoiding cheaper, metallic jewelry that is imported.
  • Recalled toys sold secondhand – Before using an old or pre-owned toy from an online marketplace, garage sale or passed down from a family member, parents should confirm that the product has not been recalled by visiting www.SaferProducts.gov.
  • Toys already in your home, school, or childcare facility – A survey earlier this year by U.S. PIRG Education Fund found 1 in 10 surveyed childcare facilities still using recalled inclined sleepers, despite a heavily publicized recall. The same problem exists in the toy market, potentially to a greater extent, since many recalls receive less attention in the media, regardless of their risk.

2019 Worst Toy Nominees

The World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.)  recently released its 2019 Nominees for the 10 Worst Toys – check out the report for photos and descriptions so you can recognize the toys, some of which would definitely have appeal. The W.A.T.C.H. report also cautions about chopping online, which it has likened to the Wild West when it comes to outlawed toys.

W.A.T.C.H. lists the following safety tips related to toys to watch out for:

  • Toys Marketed On The Internet, with product descriptions that may omit warnings and cautions or provide incomplete or misleading information
  • Battery Operated Toys For Children Under 8 Years Of Age since batteries may leak, overheat and explode.
  • Toys With “Fur” Or “Hair”, including dolls and stuffed animals, that can be ingested and aspirated by oral age children.
  • Toys With Small Removable Attachments at the end of laces and strings (e.g., bells, knobs, etc.).
  • Projectile Toys, including dart guns, sling shots, and pea-shooters which shoot objects and can cause eye injuries or blindness
  • Toys With Pointed Tips, And Blunt Or Sharp Edges that could crush, cut or puncture children’s skin.
  • Toys With Strings Longer Than 6 Inches which could strangle small children.
  • Any Crib Or Playpen Toys which are to be strung across cribs or playpens. This type of toy has resulted in strangulation deaths and injuries.
  • Toys Marketed With Other Product Lines, such as food, clothing, books, cassettes and videos which could have dangerous designs and are often sold with no warnings, instructions or age recommendations.
  • Toys Composed Of Flammable Material which will readily ignite when exposed to heat or flame.
  • Realistic Looking Toy Weapons including guns, dart guns, Ninja weaponry, swords, toy cleavers, knives, and crossbows which promote violence.
  • Toys Which Require Electricity to function and do not have step-down transformers to reduce risk of shock and electrocution.
  • Toys With Small Parts that can be swallowed or aspirated, causing choking.
  • Long Handled Toys For Children Up To 4 Years Of Age due to a tendency of such children to place these toys in their mouths and choke.
  • Toys With Toxic Surfaces Or Components that have the potential to be ingested or cause skin irritations (e.g., some children’s’ play makeup kits have components which contain ferrocyanide, a known poison).