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Each winter hundreds of people suffer mangling or amputation of their fingers or hands from improper handling of snowblowers. The Emergency Department at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire treated three people with hand injuries from snowblowers Feb. 20 after a storm dumped more than 7 inches of snow.

According to the American Society of Surgery of the Hand, common weather conditions when injuries occur include a large accumulation of snow, typically greater than 6 inches, in temperatures ranging from 28 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer. Snowblower injuries are most often is reported in men in their mid-40s, with the injury happening in their dominant hand, the Society states.

The volume of wet, heavy snow can result in snow clogging a snowblower’s exit chute, but that may be only the start of problems for unwary users, says Mayo Clinic Health System hand surgeon Nathan Hoekzema, M.D.

“A ‘quick fix’ for a clogged snowblower can result in a lifetime of pain and disfigurement,” Dr. Hoekzema says. “It’s just not worth it.”

Instead of attempting to dislodge the snow with one’s hands, Dr. Hoekzema recommends the following steps for safely clearing a clogged snowblower:

1. Turn the snowblower off.

2. Disengage the clutch.

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3. Wait 5 seconds after shutting off the machine to allow the blades to stop rotating.

4. Use a stick or broom handle to remove the impacted snow.

5. NEVER put your hand down the exit chute or around any blades.

6. Keep all shields or safety devices in place.

7. Keep a clear head and concentrate. Do not operate a snowblower if you’ve been drinking alcohol.

“Snowblowers are a great tool, especially in northern Wisconsin,” Dr. Hoekzema says. “But like most things, these tools are really only helpful when used properly.”

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