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Library > Fact Sheets > Five mistakes to avoid in the next snowstorm


Posted 1/26/2015 Printable Fact Sheet

Emergency room physicians prepare for snow-related injuries from those who may not follow the walking on ice, snow shoveling or frostbite prevention tips.

They also see a lot of injuries from snow-blowers, causing an estimated 5,740 emergency room visits nationwide every year, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

Here are five common mistakes to avoid:

1. Mishandling of snow-blower. While carbon monoxide poisoning can occur from leaving the engine running in an enclosed area, far more common are finger amputations and broken bones that occur when people shove their hands into the discharge chute to clear it. Never, ever do this, says the CPSC, even if the engine is turned off, because parts can keep moving for a while after the machine is turned off. Use a long stick instead to clear debris after the engine is shut off.

Follow these other snow-blowing safety tips from the CPSC:

- Always keep hands and feet away from all moving parts.
- Never leave the machine running in an enclosed area.
- Add fuel to the tank outdoors before starting the machine. Don't add gasoline to a running or hot engine. Always keep the gasoline can capped, and store gasoline out of the house and away from ignition sources.
- For electric-powered snow throwers, be aware of where the power cord is at all times.

2. Keeping a car running when it's snow-banked. If the car careens into a snow bank, don't keep the engine running unless the driver knows the car's exhaust pipe is clear of snow. If the exhaust pipe is blocked, carbon monoxide can accumulate under the car and seep in through the cracks, causing suffocation.

3. Heading out of a stuck car to find help. The other mistake many people make is leaving their stuck cars to head out into the storm. Unless the driver sees a heated place to head to, it's a bad idea since it increases the chances of getting lost for hours in the storm and developing hypothermia. Many people have heard the news stories about families getting trapped and eventually rescued, while the father who went to get help winds up dead from exposure. Stay in the car and, if there are passengers, huddle together for warmth.

4. Wearing wet gloves and clothes. Those who are out shoveling and get warm and sweaty should not remove a water repellent jacket. It's better to head inside and take off some of inner layers of clothing, rather than wear a sweat-drenched sweater outdoors. Wearing wet gloves or other clothes makes it easier to get frostbite because water serves as a conduit to deliver the cold air directly to your skin.

5. Reckless play. Educate children on the dangers of snow removal and make sure they play safely while outdoors. If a plow is nearby, children should stay back at least 25 feet or more from the road. It is best to have children play near the house as the snowplow approaches and stay there until the plow has passed. When sledding, make sure to choose a hill with a gentle slope, free of trees, large rocks and fences, that also has a long run-off area at the end. Don't sled near a frozen lake or pond and only sled in daylight. Make sure kids under 12 years old have adult supervision.

Click here to return to the Inclement Weather Information page.

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