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:

 

Ice dams can be costly. Ventilate & insulate!


Here in the Northeast, one common and costly headache for homeowners is the problem of ice dams. Are ice dams something that could happen to your home? Here’s a quick summary of the conditions that lead to ice dams: snow buildup on the roof + heat loss from the home + freezing temperatures. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IIBHS) explains it this way:

“During freezing weather, heat from your home or business can escape through your roof and melt snow on your roof. The snowmelt can then trickle down to the roof’s edge and refreeze, creating an ice dam that leaves additional snowmelt with no place to go but possibly under your roof.”

This IIBHS infographic offers a visual for how ice dams are formed.

We have a pretty good prior post on the topic: Ice Dams 101: How to handle winter roof hazards. In that post, we talk about how the unsightly icicle buildup is a symptom of a more serious underlying problem that can lead to water damage, rot, mildew and mold. We talk about the importance of a two-fold strategy for dealing with ice dams:

  • First, you need to get rid of the ice dams and minimize the immediate damage.
  • Second, you need to diagnose the underlying problem and take steps to prevent ice dams from forming.

If you have damage to your home from ice dams, you’ll want to contact your insurance agent to report a claim. The Insurance Information Institute explains whether ice dam damage is covered by your insurance policy in their article, Water Damage: What’s Covered; What’s Not. They offer this helpful summary:

 “Generally speaking, water that comes from the top down, such as rainfall, is covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy, while water that comes from the bottom up, such as an overflowing river, is covered by a separate flood insurance policy.”

Resources for preventing ice dams

Here are some of the best resources we’ve found to help you learn more about how ice dams happen and how to prevent them from occurring:

Liberty Mutual: Ice dams – tips for preventing ice dams and a series of three excellent videos: Causes, Combats and Cures. These offer detailed explanations about how ice dams form and conditions that lead to them along with methods to combat and correct the problem with insulation and ventilation.

Travelers: How to Identify and Help Remove an Ice Dam

This Old House: Preventing Ice Dams

Housing Technology from the University of Minnesota Extension: Ice Dams

Building and Construction Technology, UMass Amherst Department of Environmental Conservation: Preventing Ice Dams

Winter Pet Care


winter pet care - photo of dogs in a blanket

Here in the frigid depths of January, sometimes all you want to do is hibernate. Just pile the pets on the bed, throw the covers over your head, and snooze until spring. But people (and their pets) aren’t wired like bears and chipmunks: we can’t hibernate, even though the prospect sounds so appealingly cozy. We still have to go to work and the doggos still need to be walked.

Here are some tips to get you and your pets through the freezin’ season:

  • If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them. While some breeds of dogs and cats are well-prepared for cold weather, most are not. Limit their time outdoors. Make sure short-haired breeds and smaller animals (who tend to lose body heat more quickly) have a warm coat on in addition to their natural protection.
  • Booties! Is there anything funnier than a dog doing the Big Shoe Dance the first time she is introduced to winter footwear? But beyond being able to laugh at your pet’s wounded dignity, booties serve two vital purposes: they protect tender paw pads from icy sidewalks and they prevent animals from licking road salt and other harmful or even poisonous chemicals (like antifreeze and other de-icers) from their paws.
  • No baths, please! Cats are remarkable self-cleaning little critters. Dogs… not so much. But unless your dog has been rolling in something stinky, try to hold off on the baths during winter. The oils that accumulate in their undercoat are great insulators, and stripping them off with soap leads to one shivering and miserable pupper. If you absolutely must wash your dog, make sure she’s thoroughly dry before letting her outside. Be aware that the last part to dry is the fur closest to the skin, and that’s the bit that most needs to be fully dry to offer the best protection from the elements. Wet fur on a cold day is no fun at all.
  • Make sure your pet has a warm bed, and thoroughly towel them off with a clean dry towel when they come back inside. Nobody wants to curl up for a post-walk nap with wet hair!
  • If your pets live outdoors, make sure they have a safe, warm, dry space to retreat to when the winter winds are howling. Consider using heat lamps in the barn or garage and put down warm bedding (or better yet, a raised and insulated platform) to keep your beasties snug and warm when it’s icy out.

If you follow these simple rules, your pets will stay safe and happy during the cold months. Keep your pets in tip-top shape by staying up to date with vet visits. And look into pet insurance – an affordable pet insurance policy can be a real blessing in the event of an accident or emergency. Contact your local independent insurance agent today to ask about pet coverage.

Fire up that snowblower – don’t wait until the first storm hits


We had our first snowfall of the season yesterday … OK, depending on where you live, it was only a few wimpy flakes. But take it as Mother Nature’s gentle advance warning: Winter is on it’s way – get your snowblower ready.

If you have a snowblower, take it out of storage now and test it out – you don’t want to get caught short in the first storm. Popular Mechanics has some tips for how to start your snowblower – including some tips for blowers that are stubborn about starting.

If you don’t have a snowblower, but you have one on your Santa wish list, this video offers  snowblower buying guide tips from Consumer Reports. It’s interactive so you can skip to different chapters. Learn about which type of snow blower best suits your property. The video breaks down what you need to know about size, power source – gas, battery or electric -, key features, trouble shooting, maintenance and how to ensure a smooth start-up each season.

Operating your snowblower safely

Every year, emergency rooms see about 6,000 injuries related to snow blower accidents, many of them amputations. Experts say that most snowblower injuries occur when snow is heavy, wet and deeper than 6 inches – those are conditions that lead to clogging in snow removal machines. Most injuries are hand injuries to the dominant hand.

Whether you are operating a snowblower for your home or your business, the Outdoor Power & Equipment Institute (OPEI) urges you to operate your snow blowing equipment safely. They offer a great list of tips for preparing your machine before it snows, and the following snow blowing safety tips:

  • KEY SAFETY TIP: Never put your hands inside the auger or chute. Use a clean out tool (or stick) to unclog snow or debris from your snow thrower. Your hands should never go inside the auger or chute.
  • Turn OFF your snow thrower if you need to clear a clog. If you need to remove debris or unclog snow, always turn off your snow thrower. Wait for all moving parts to come to a complete stop before clearing any clogs or debris.
  • Only use your snow thrower in visible conditions. Never operate the snow thrower without good visibility or light.
  • Aim your snow thrower with care. Never throw snow toward people or cars. Do not allow anyone to stand in front of your snow thrower. Keep children or pets away from your snow thrower when it is operating.
  • Use extreme caution on slopes and hills. Use caution when changing directions on slopes. Do not attempt to clear steep slopes.
  • Know where your cord is. If you have an electric powered snow thrower, be aware of where the power cord is at all times. Avoid tripping. Do not run over the power cord.
  • Keep pets and children inside. Kids and pets may love to play in the white stuff, but it’s best to keep them inside your home and under supervision while you are using your snow thrower to clear a path or drive. Do not allow them to play in the snow as it is tossed out of the snow thrower’s chute.

If you like to remove your snow the old-fashioned manual way, be sure to see our prior post on Snow shoveling 101: Best shovels, best techniques.