Picture a cozy home with bright, cheery windows covered with a blanket of white, freshly fallen snow. Do you see that person standing at the window, smiling as they sip a mug of hot chocolate? That isn't you. No, you're out in the cold, bundled up in three coats, a scarf and snow boots sweating while you try to scrape the beautiful white stuff off your driveway and sidewalks before it freezes or gets too deep.

While shoveling is a great exercise, investing in a quality snow blower can save time as well as your back. Even the best electric snow blowers can be a dangerous tool if you don't know how to operate it safely. Here are some essential snow blower safety tips.

Use a Clearing Tool
Never use your hands to clear out a clogged discharged chute or auger. While a safety lever generally controls snow blower augers, you can never be too sure if the snow and ice blocking the auger have kept it from returning to the stop position. Many people will lose fingers to an auger blade that spins forward after it has been freed from its snowy prison.

The solution? Use a specialty clearing tool or a sturdy stick to clear out jammed chutes and augers. Many snow throwers come with a tool, but any long, sturdy stick will do in a pinch. Be sure that you have a firm grip on the clearing tool at all times and you'll be back to plowing in no time. 

Avoid Plowing on Steep Inclines
If you have to plow a steep driveway or sidewalk, it is best if you walk across, rather than straight down the incline. Slipping on a steep hill and potentially injuring yourself or damaging your snow blower are just a few of the possible scenarios. Always mind how your snow blower is leaning when on a hillside and don't plow where you are unsure if you could support the weight of your machine if it starts to tip over.

Wear Good Boots

Plowing cold, wet snow in fuzzy slippers is never a good idea. When working with equipment with moving parts, it is always a good idea to dress for protection as well as comfort. In addition, wearing good boots or shoes provides traction and can help you push your snow blower smoothly. Besides, you wouldn't want to visit the emergency room just because you didn't want to put on your winter shoes.

Don't Run Over Mystery Bumps
That mound of snow is just that, snow, right? It could be. Or it could be your favorite lawn gnome, a chunk of ice, a shoe or a nice rock just waiting to cause damage. Before you begin plowing, look over the area you need to clear and double check that mystery bumps aren't a nasty surprise.

Be Aware and Be Visible
Snow plowing usually happens in the early morning when people are trying to get to work or at night when they finally get home from work. These times of day are also dim due to the lack of sunshine in winter. Consider wearing a bright scarf or jacket while plowing. This will help drivers notice where you are if you are plowing close to a road. Many of the best snow throwers come with headlights to help you see where you are plowing.

It is easy to focus solely on the task of clearing away snow, but pay attention while you plow so you don't accidentally run over anything in the way, run off a curb or run over your power cord if you have an electric snow blower. Neglecting to pay attention could result in an injury to yourself or those around you. Make sure you focus on the task at hand and you'll be able to get inside and thaw out sooner.

If you use your snow blower with safety first and foremost, you will have a much more pleasant winter. Snow blowers are a wonderful convenience and while shoveling has its merits, once you use learn how to safely use your blower, you will be hard-pressed to ever pick up a shovel again.

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