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Experience Not Always the Best Prescription for Snowblowers

New study finds experience does not always keep hands injury-free

LAS VEGAS, Feb. 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Snowblower-related injuries to the hand have been on the rise in recent years, with more than 5,000 injuries reported each year in the United States. Many of those injuries might be prevented with better safety features, according to a study presented today at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) ( Timely public safety announcements and increased safety features may be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to reducing snowblower-related hand injuries, it adds.

"Snowblower injuries are considered 'low-velocity missile' wounds. Nonetheless, the zone of injury is often much more extensive than can be seen on initial examination. In addition, although the injuries can be treated, the return to complete function is often not possible. As such, prevention of these injuries is truly the optimal strategy," said Daniel Master, M.D., the study's lead author and an orthopaedic surgery resident at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

Dr. Master and his team studied 22 patients who were treated between 2002 and 2005 at Connecticut's Hartford Hospital for snowblower injuries to the hand. The study considered factors such as:

  • age of the snowblower operator
  • experience of the operator
  • age of the snowblower itself
  • alcohol consumption near the time of snowblower use
  • snowfall accumulation
  • higher or lower temperature on the day of injury

The study revealed that snowblower injuries are most often associated with:

  • level of operator experience
  • older snowblower machines
  • denser snow associated with higher temperatures
  • misperceptions about snowblower design

Some of the study's results seem to be counterintuitive, said Dr. Master.

"Typically, you might expect injuries to be greater with an operator who has little experience with the snowblower," he noted. "But our study found the opposite to be true. The reason may be that when operators feel experienced with their machines, they develop a false sense of confidence and become a little more careless."

Operators may also be confused about the design of their machines, he said.

"Most injuries occur when the operator tries to unclog the exit chute by reaching into the chute's opening when the machine is still running," Dr. Master noted. "What the operator doesn't realize is that there are two blades on a snowblower -- the one in front of the machine that can be seen and a second blade, the impeller blade, which throws the snow out of the exit chute. This impeller blade cannot be seen and causes injuries in most cases."

Dr. Master further explained that, "patients can also injure themselves when the machine is not running because clogged impeller blades retain stored energy in the elastic drive belts of the machine. As such, once a clog has been removed from the blades, the drive belts are free to release that stored energy causing the blades to spin again, potentially leading to significant injury."

The study concludes that additional safety features for snowblowers would aid in reducing hand injuries (, and recommends design elements such as chute openings that would prevent operators from inserting their hands and blades that lock when the handle is released. It also recommends that local agencies provide public service announcements when weather patterns associated with snowblower injuries are present.

"When temperatures rise above 29 degrees and snowfall reaches 2 or 3 inches, local radio and weather channels should provide brief public safety announcements regarding snowblower use," Dr. Master said. "Isolated reports have shown that these announcements can be effective in preventing snowblower injuries."

Disclosure: Dr. Master and his co-authors received no compensation for this study.

Podium Presentation Abstract (

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    Catherine Dolf
    C (847) 894-9112 or O (847) 384-4034

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    C (224) 374-8610 or O (847) 384-4031

SOURCE American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
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