5 Important Snow Blower Safety Tips

Snow Blower

Always wear eye protection when operating a snow blower.

There’s a certain “heartiness” associated with shoveling snow, but oh, isn’t it such a simple comfort to use a snow blower to move those inches – or sometimes feet, of snow, in half the time (and energy!) of shoveling? We’re no strangers to the winter elements here in Three Rivers, Michigan, but modern conveniences like snow blowers have made the winter months a lot easier on us. Yet, as snow blowers continue to gain popularity, the rise in snow blower related accidents has as well. Wearing safety glasses to prevent snow blower debris from flying in your eyes is just one of the ways to remove snow safely this winter.

#1: Cleaning a clog in the auger or discharge chute? Cut the engine first. It’s a surprise to us how many amputations occur as a result of not doing just this. Sure, the auger may have stopped turning as a result of that twig being stuck in it, but as soon as you remove it, you can bet it’s going to be up and whirring in a second – whether you had time to pull your fingers away or not. Sure, it’s frigid out, but take three seconds to turn that engine off.

#2: Start gasoline-powered snow blowers outside – not in an enclosed garage or shed. You wouldn’t sit in a running car in a closed garage, would you? Same goes for snow blowers – it might be tempting to turn it on and test it out in your warm garage, but you can just as easily become a victim of carbon-monoxide poisoning. Wait until you’re safely outside to give it a whirl.

#3: Wear safety glasses to prevent debris from flying in your eyes. Snow blowers are designed to remove snow, but that also means they’re going to be kicking up what’s underneath – small rocks, twigs, dirt, etc. These objects will literally be blowing into the air and potentially towards your eyes. Safety glasses keep debris out of your eyes so you can get the job done and be back in the warmth of your home or office in no time.

#4: Snow blowers are loud pieces of machinery, so protect your hearing, too. Snow blowers are prevalent in our garages and sheds, but that doesn’t mean they’re not harmful machinery. In addition to wearing safety glasses, protect your ears from their loud sound by wearing hearing protection earmuffs. You may only be using your snow blower a few days out of the year, but those days can wreak havoc on your hearing for a lifetime.

#5: Keep it tight. We’re not talking about your figure this winter – we mean the clothing you’re wearing while snow blowing. Don’t risk loose jackets, sleeves, and pants getting caught in your snow blower. Tuck pants into snow boots, and wear jackets that feature form-fitting sleeves to keep your protected. Just say no to scarves while snow blowing, unless they are completely tucked up within your jacket.

We average about 30-40 inches of snow every year here in Michigan, so you can believe snow blowers are a welcome invention to us! We’ll certainly be following our snow blower safety tips this winter, and we hope you do as well so we can all make it a safe winter this year.

Prevent Hearing Damage with Proper Ear Protection

Man wearing earmuffs

Wearing proper hearing protection is critical in loud environments

Hear ye, hear ye! (While ye still can . . . ) Hearing loss is irreversible! That means preventing hearing damage is critical before it’s too late.

We “hear” when specialized hair cells in our middle ear convert sound waves into electrical signals and send them to our brain. Sounds that are too loud cause these hair cells to become overstimulated and die. The longer our exposure, and/or the greater the noise, the more hair cells are killed off. As the number of living hair cells decreases, so does our ability to hear.

When Should You Wear Ear Protection?
The loudness of a sound is measured in decibels [dB] and relates to the degree of the pressure the sound waves create. The faintest sound the human ear can perceive is 0 dB, up to a maximum of 180 dB, the noise from a rocket launch. Normal conversation at 3–5 feet is about 60 decibels. Many experts agree that continual exposure to more than 85 decibels is dangerous. Shop tools and truck traffic are approximately 90 decibels; while a power mower, a chainsaw, a pneumatic drill, and a snowmobile are all just over 100 decibels. Sandblasting, power saws, and loud rock concerts are approximately 115 decibels. A gun blast and a jet engine would each be examples of 140 decibels — and at this level, even short term exposure can cause permanent damage. In fact, 140 decibels is the loudest recommended noise exposure with hearing protection. Instantaneous death of hearing tissue occurs at 180 decibels.

Ear protection effectiveness becomes greatly reduced when it doesn’t fit properly, or is worn only part of the time during noise exposure, so it’s imperative that you find the right kind of hearing protection for you, and commit to wearing it correctly and consistently.

What Types of Hearing Protection are Available?
There are two main kinds of ear protection:

  • Ear plugs come in a multitude of styles and are inserted into the ear canal to block incoming noise. Ear plugs may be connected by a cord or cordless, pre-molded or moldable, and disposable or reusable. Banded earplugs (also called semi-insert ear plugs) consist of two ear plugs connected by a rigid headband. Regardless of which style you prefer, ear plugs are the most comfortable for hot, damp work areas; plus, they’re simple to use, economical, and effective.
  • Ear muffs are made of noise-suppressing materials, soft cushioning that encompasses the entire ear, and a hard outer shell. They are held in place by a band which either goes over the top of, or around the back of the head. Ear muffs are very comfortable and come in a variety of styles and colors. Electronic ear muffs are available with high-tech features, such as radios, microphones, and impulse filters for sudden loud noises, like gun fire. Overall, ear muffs provide greater protection than ear plugs; plus, they’re easier to fit and generally more durable. They also have replaceable parts.

How To Choose the Right Hearing Protection
The choice of ear protection is a personal one and depends on a number of factors, including fit and comfort; but most importantly, your noise reduction needs. If the noise you’re dealing with is intermittent, ear muffs are a better choice, since it may be inconvenient to continually remove and re-insert earplugs. In areas where noise levels are very high, however, ear muffs and ear plugs can be worn together to offer the most protection possible.

How Do I Care for My Ear Protection?
Always start by following the manufacturer’s recommendations for whether or not your ear plugs or ear muffs are washable. If so, take your ear muffs apart, then use a a soft brush, mild liquid detergent, and warm water to remove oil and dirt that can harden ear cushions. Ensure that sound-reducing materials inside do not get wet. Rinse in clear warm water. Squeeze excess moisture from the cushions and then allow them to air dry.

Check your ear protection regularly for wear and tear, and replace ear cushions or ear plugs when they’re no longer soft or pliable. Replace ear muffs when the head band is over-stretched and no longer keeps the ear cushions snug against your head.

Hearing loss usually develops over a period of many years, and since it is painless and gradual, you might not even notice it until you realize you’re having trouble understanding what people say, especially in a noisy place, like a party. Of course, it’s best to not let it come to that, but if needed, a physician specializing in hearing disorders (called a otolaryngologist or otologist) can diagnose your hearing problem and recommend the best way to manage it.

Can You Hear Me Now?

For years SafetyGlassesUSA.com has sold hearing protection in the form of both muffs and plugs. Manufacturers of these products are required to assign a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) to each one to inform users of the level of protection offered. It should be understood that this rating ultimately is still approximate, not absolute, because each product will fit everyone differently, and not all users will wear or use the products correctly, thus affecting (reducing) the level of protection.

Rumor has it that this current rating system will soon evolve to a more accurate and universal system. Perhaps we’ll re-examine this topic then, but now let’s look at what factors can hinder the performance of ear plugs or ear muffs. Avoiding these common mistakes could mean avoiding hearing loss, and will maximize the product’s effectiveness as well as your investment in the product.

Ear Plugs

  • Plugs are not inserted properly or deeply enough. When plugs are not properly inserted, their effectiveness can be reduced by 50%. Click here for illustrated instructions on proper insertion.
  • Disposable plugs are used beyond their intended lifespan. Such plugs are designed for one day of average use. Exceptionally dirty environments, or repeated extraction and replacing (additional rolling) of plugs may require that more than one new pair be used in a given day.
  • Reusable plugs are not cleaned properly or often enough. Plugs should be cleaned with water daily (and dried with dust-free cloth), or more if used in areas with heavy dust content.

Ear Muffs

  • Ear muffs are worn too tightly or too loosely. The muffs should fit snugly but comfortably over the ears, and should not lose their position with basic head movements.
  • The band is not properly placed on head. Ear muffs should be worn such that the supporting band rests upright, comfortably across the top of wearer’s head (excluding behind-the-head band styles).
  • Radio muffs are used too loudly. Ear muffs equipped with radios should not be played at maximum volume for extended periods of time. Playing at a moderate level will help save your hearing and improve the life of the batteries.
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