These numbers come from NEISS (the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System), a national probability sample of hospitals in the U.S. Here's how it works: "Patient information is collected from each NEISS hospital for every emergency visit involving an injury associated with consumer products. From this sample, the total number of product-related injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms nationwide can be estimated." And lucky for us, they have a unique category for snowblower-related injuries, with subcategories for diagnoses -- including amputations.
The year-to-year fluctuation in these numbers is probably related to the number of severe snow storms in the U.S. The average snowblower amputee is about 50 years old and male -- very male. In fact, of the 197 snowblower-related amputation cases in the database between 2003 and 2013, only seven -- or about 3.7 percent -- involved women. This reflects a couple of things: first, that men are probably more likely to operate snowblowers than women, and second, that women are typically more sensible about these things than men.
Why are men losing their fingers? For the simple reason that they keep sticking their hands in snowblowers while they're still running. Here's a sampling of the case descriptions from recent years:
- "50 year old male had finger caught in snowblower amputating it unclogging blower"
- "40 year old male partially amputated 3 fingers clearing out snowblower"
- "36 year old male was cleaning his snowblower while it was running and got right hand fingers caught in it"
- "63 year old male amputated fingers in snowblower when it clogged"
- "57 year old male thought his snowblower 'disinlodged,' stuck hand in and got finger caught in blade"
- "52 year old male reached into snowblower to clear snow and amputated two fingers and brought finger pieces in"
- "20 year old male was using a snow blower and inserted hand into chute because it was clogged and injured finger"
You get the picture. Overwhelmingly, men reach into their snowblowers to unclog or fiddle with something without first, you know, turning the machine off.
Overall, an average of about 5,700 people hurt themselves snowblowing each year. Aside from amputations, snowblowers cause burns ("64 year old male in shorts draining case from snowblower when it ignited and burned lower legs"), hand fractures ("43 year old male open fractured hand, put hand in snowblower chute"), garden-variety lacerations ("34 year old male lacerated finger when he put hand in a running snow blower"), and general aches and pains ("72 year old male moving a heavy snow blower developed low back pain").
Looking at the big picture though, snowblower injuries are relatively rare -- in 2013 there were about three times as many vacuum cleaner related injuries, four times as many injuries caused by snow shovels, and eight times as many lawnmower incidents.