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Dangers from Chainsaws, Snowblowers and Snow Shoveling

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Dangers from Chainsaws, Snowblowers and Snow Shoveling

Dec 04, 2013

Degloving sounds pretty gruesome, and it can happen if you put your hand in the snowblower – even if it’s not running. And surprisingly, it’s not the arms and hands that get injured in most chainsaw accidents. Even an innocent looking snow shovel can send you to the emergency room. This winter, avoid the types of injuries Dr. Troy Madsen sees from snowblowers, chainsaws, and even the good old-fashioned snow shovel.

Episode Transcript

Announcer: Medical news and research from University Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You are listening to The Scope.

Scot: We're calling this show "The Attack of Snow Blowers, Chainsaws, and Good Old Fashioned Snow Shovels". We're with Dr. Troy Madsen, Emergency Department at University of Utah Hospital. Let's talk about snow blowers, chainsaws, and the good old fashioned snow shovel, and some of the things you see in the ER.

Dr. Troy Madsen: Yeah, these are all sort of things. We kind of think of the dangers with these, but sometimes some of the dangers with them are things we don't really think about a lot.

Scot: Yeah.

Dr. Troy Madsen: So maybe you're out and you're thinking, "I got to cut down a Christmas tree."

Scot: Sure.

Dr. Troy Madsen: So you take the chainsaw out, you fire it up, you get that thing going. It's surprising. The big injuries we see with chainsaw, it's not like you're cutting a finger off, I think most people are very careful there because they've got this big saw with this chain going around it.

Scot: Yeah.

Dr. Troy Madsen: They watch it. But it's as soon as they cut the tree down, they still may be holding it in their right hand, kind of drop it down a bit. That blade is still moving. It hits their leg and that's really the main injury we see with chainsaws.

Scot: Fascinating.

Dr. Troy Madsen: A lot of leg injuries, yeah.

Scot: Interesting.

Dr. Troy Madsen: The big thing is you've got the femoral artery right there.

Scot: Where is that exactly on my leg here?

Dr. Troy Madsen: So that's right in your groin kind of on the inner part of it. If you go down about half way or even up above there, it runs all the way down there. So if you hit that with a chainsaw and that opens up, a person can very quickly bleed to death from that kind of injury. So it can be a very, very serious injury and interesting that that's often what we see.

Scot: Fascinating. What about eye injuries from chainsaws? Do you see a lot of those or not so much?

Dr. Troy Madsen: We occasionally do. We'll see people who just aren't wearing eye protection where something kicks up into their eye or just even maybe after they've sawed, maybe they take their eye protection off, and there is wind, and it just blows some of that sawdust up into their eye. So we definitely do see some of these eye injuries this time of year as well.

Scot: Anything else with chainsaws that somebody might not expect?

Dr. Troy Madsen: There is always the exhaust issue. You've got this machine right next to you that's producing exhaust. Carbon monoxide comes from that. I can't say I have seen a lot of carbon monoxide poisonings from chainsaw, but we have seen cases of carbon monoxide poisonings from engines, things like that. So just be aware if you're doing a lot of sawing, a lot of work with a chainsaw, you are getting exposed to carbon monoxide and that could become an issue. It's going to build up in your blood and stay there for several hours.

Scot: There was a term you told me, removing the snow blowers now that grosses me out. It's called degloving.

Dr. Troy Madsen: Yeah, degloving.

Scot: Tell me how degloving applies to snow blowers.

Dr. Troy Madsen: So yeah, not a good thing. So snow blowers, let's say you're working on your driveway. You've got your snow blower going and it's kind of some heavy wet snow, and it all gets stuck in the chute. So your snow blower is just not blowing any snow out of it at that point, so you think, "I've got to get this snow out of it." But you think to yourself, "I'm not stupid. I am turning the snow blower off."
So you turn the snow blower off. You reach your hand into the chute, you pull that snow out of there, and it cuts your finger. So it may deglove it which means it basically just tears all the skin off it, pulls it off, or it may actually take a finger off entirely.

Scot: Even not running.

Dr. Troy Madsen: Even not running.

Scot: The motor is not running. It's just so sharp in there. What's going on?

Dr. Troy Madsen: Well, this is what happens. I've had patients who have come in and I ask them, I say, "How in the world did you get your finger cut off by a snow blower?" Because I've got a snow blower, I'm going up and down my driveway. I'm thinking, "Oh, I'm fine. I just let go and it turns off." They said, "Yeah, it was off." But there was so much tension on that blade in there from all that heavy snow that he reached in, pulled the wet snow out. Immediately it released that tension. The blade flipped and took their finger off.
So we see it several times a year. Don't put a hand ever in a snow blower chute even if the snow blower is off. A lot of these snow blowers will have little shovels attached to them. Just reach in with that or get a stick or something. Get one of those big ladles from the kitchen, something like that, so it's not your hand in there when that tension gets released.

Scot: It's off, so most people would think, "Well, it's safe."

Dr. Troy Madsen: Yeah, exactly.

Scot: So that's very interesting. All right. Finally the good old fashioned snow shovel.

Dr. Troy Madsen: Yeah, the good old fashioned snow shovel.

Scot: Just an injury waiting to happen.

Dr. Troy Madsen: It sure is.

Scot: What are you seeing?

Dr. Troy Madsen: Yeah, so the biggest thing we see there, you know, obviously there is the stuff we think about back injuries, lift with your legs, all that. But one of the bigger things we see and again, kind of one of the things you may not think about is heart attacks. People get out and sometimes they underestimate the amount of work that goes into just trying to shovel snow off your driveway. It is an incredible amount of work and for a lot of people it maybe the most exercise they've had all year. They took it easy during the summer, had some vacation, went to some football games in the fall, had a lot of nachos and whatever [inaudible 00:04:25]. So they got a lot of cholesterol building up in the heart and then get out there with this first snow storm, just start shoveling away. And a lot of times, again, it's that heavy sort of wet snow. It's very heavy. That's a lot of work. We will definitely see people that have heart attacks because of that exertion.

Scot: So these are three things that can hurt you and probably ways you've never really thought of. Chainsaws cutting down the Christmas tree, out there with the snow blower, or just out there shoveling some snow, so be safe, be aware of these things, and I hope I don't see you this holiday season.

Announcer: We're your daily does of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.