Keep it safe when using your snow blower

Safety tips from the industry's trade group and Consumer Reports

Published: December 19, 2014 08:00 AM
Cub Cadet 31AH57S

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Shoveling snow can have its own hazards if you're not in shape, but the machine you need for the fastest, most thorough clearing presents risks even for those in fine shape. Here's some safety advice from the experts at the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, the outdoor-gear industry's trade group, and Consumer Reports:

Clear the way. Before it even snows, clear the pathways you intend to use. Snow can hide objects that could clog the snow blower's chute, cause damage to the machine, or even injure people nearby. Remove doormats, sleds, boards, wires, and other debris.

Dress for the job. Wear adequate winter garments and footwear that can handle slippery surfaces. Put on safety glasses, and avoid loose-fitting clothes that could get caught in moving parts. Tie back long hair. Use hearing protection.
Handle fuel carefully.  Move the snow blower outdoors. Before you start the engine, while it's still cold, fill up the fuel tank using a non-spill container with a spout. (Be sure to add fuel stabilizer to the gas, preferably one designed to withstand the effects of ethanol in the gas, before fueling up.) Never add fuel to a running or hot engine, and never smoke around fuel. For storage, keep fuel in a clean, dry, ventilated area—never near a pilot light, stove, or other heat source.

Keep yourself in plain sight. With the shorter daylight hours during winter, homeowners frequently clear snow during darkness, either in the early morning or in the evening. But while you're clearing snow at the end of your driveway, drivers of oncoming cars might not see you in time—and if you're wearing adequate hearing protection, you might not hear them. Use your snow blower's headlight if it has one, and attach reflective tape to your snow blower (some models come with it) or to your own coat.

Use a snow clearing tool

Watch those moving parts. The chute can get clogged either from dense snow or something you didn't know was under the snow. Never put your hands inside the auger or chute, the source of most snow-blower injuries. Most snow blowers come with a clearing tool, but you also can use a broomstick or another stiff tool. Be sure to turn off the machine before trying to unclog or repair it. Wait for moving parts to stop, and disconnect the spark-plug wire or power cord.

Aim carefully. It's not uncommon that you need to adjust the chute's direction as you move closer to the end of your driveway. Never throw snow toward people or cars. (Kids and pets should already be far away from where you're working.) And don't let anyone stand in front of the snow blower while it's running.

Use extreme caution on slopes. Hilly ground invariably makes clearing snow more challenging. You're better off not trying to clear steep slopes unless you have a track-driven model such as the $1,100 Troy-Bilt Storm Tracker 2690XP 31BM73R. Whatever you're using, be cautious when changing direction, and don't clear snow across the face of a slope.

Know where your cord is. If you have a corded-electric snow blower, be aware of where the power cord is at all times. Otherwise, it's easy to trip or run over the cord, both of which could land you in the ER.

In general, it helps to refresh your knowledge of the snow blower at the start of each season. (If you've misplaced your owner's manual, most are available online.) And be sure you're keeping up the maintenance to ensure the snow blower is ready when you are.

Looking for a new snow blower? A few are still available in stores, but inventories are quickly growing slim. See our buying guide if you're unfamiliar with the types, and check out our Ratings of 114 models so you know what you're getting. Our top gasoline-powered picks include the dual-stage Ariens 921032, $1,300, and Craftsman 88396, $1,200, both with 30-inch clearing widths, and the single-stage Toro Power Clear 721E, $570.

—Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

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