That load of snow in your driveway may be getting to you, but before you put your snowblower into action, make sure you’re really using it properly and safely. You probably have a healthy respect for your lawnmower and weed-whacker, and their ability to do real harm. Don’t think that your snowblower is more innocuous just because it throws the fluffy stuff around instead of slicing plants away from the earth.
First rule: Don’t drink alcohol and operate a snowblower. Any time you dull your reaction time and impair your judgment, the last thing you want to do is operate any kind of machinery that could severely injure you or someone else.
Second, be careful where you aim that thing. If the snow is shooting toward your house, you could be looking at damage to your siding and windows. If you aren’t exactly sure where Patches the Cat ran off to, get her into the house first unless you want to risk stunning her and burying her under a bunch of snow.
Remember, not all snow is light and fluffy. Also, if there are heavier objects in the snow, like rocks or ice chunks, they will be flung farther, and perhaps faster, than snow. So, thoroughly inspect the area before you get out the snowblower. In fact, if you can survey the area before the snow covers the ground, so much the better.
Third, watch your fingers and other important parts you might need later. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports that several thousand people are treated each year in emergency rooms thanks to incidents with snowblowers and snowthrowers. Two-thirds of snowblower injuries involve the fingers, and of all the various consumer home and yard products, snowblowers are one of the top causes of finger amputations.
Most injuries occur when operators attempt to clear the auger or the discharge chute with their hands. Use a stick or broom handle to clear away debris in the machine. Remember that the impeller blades may still be rotating for a time even after the machine is turned off. You should wait AT LEAST five seconds after turning the machine off before trying to clear any jams, even though you’ll be using a stick. You don’t want spinning blades to grab onto something you’re holding tightly.
Fourth, make sure you leave all the safety devices, like shields, guards and switches, on the machine. Customize your car, not your snowblower. For that matter, protect your own body by wearing gloves, long pants, goggles and boots. For one thing, it’s cold out there. For another, you want to keep your body parts intact, remember?
Fifth, if you have a gas-powered snowblower, fuel it up before you start using it. Never add fuel while it’s running or still hot from recent use. If it’s an electrical snowblower, make sure the cord doesn’t get tangled or snagged in any moving parts; electrocution is dangerous, not invigorating. Don’t touch the engine cowling while it’s still hot.
Sixth, keep the kids away from the snowblower. Around the age of 15, it’s probably OK to start introducing them to safe use of a snowblower. And make sure you supervise them until you’re sure they know what they are doing.
Seventh, don’t leave the machine unattended without shutting it off first. You don’t want the snowblower going off on its own, and you don’t want kids or pets to get caught up in it when you’re out of sight or out of earshot.
Finally (and maybe this should have been ruling number one, but it should be obvious), read the user’s manual for your snowblower before you use it. No one’s going to respect you more because you figured it out on your own, particularly if the result is a couple missing fingers and a family pet that’s still reeling from that hunk of ice you flung at it.