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Snowblower Hand Injuries Often Extensive, Study Finds
Date:2/27/2009

Finger loss is one result, and experts urge better awareness of how machines work

FRIDAY, Feb. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Snowblowers might make clearing the sidewalk quicker and easier, but those who use them continue to show up in emergency rooms with hand injuries and accidental amputations, say medical experts.

"The injuries need to be prevented, because they're not the type of injuries that can be reconstructed," said Dr. Daniel Master, an orthopedic surgery resident at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland and the study's lead author. The nature of the tissue damage caused by snowblowers makes a full recovery extremely difficult and often leads to amputation, he said, and "even if you have the amputated part, it's essentially useless."

Master and his colleagues researched snowblower-related hand injuries sustained by 22 patients he treated from 2002 to 2005 at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. He was expected to present their findings Friday at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' annual meeting, in Las Vegas.

"The weather is a major factor that causes the cluster of these injuries," Master said. "When the snow is dense, the machines get clogged, and people put their hands down the shoot" to clear it.

Part of the problem, he found, is that people sometimes ignore the safety warnings that come with the snowblowers. "A large majority were aware of the warnings but stuck their hand down the shoot when it was running anyway," Master said.

In addition, he explained, snowblowers usually have two blades, including one that's not visible. That's the one that causes most injuries, he said. Also, "there's a lag time between when you release the dead-man's switch and when the blade stops moving," Master said.

Danger apparently exists even when the machines do not seem to be running, though. Master said that when a clog is removed, the blades can spin again using s
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