Municipalities are responsible for maintaining cemeteries, parks and recreation areas, as well as the grounds around municipal buildings. Employees are often mowing, weeding, and maintaining the properties with riding mowers, push lawn mowers, tractors, and weed trimmers. This equipment has the potential to injure operators or bystanders. In addition, objects propelled by the blades or cords of the equipment could also injure bystanders or damage property like headstones in cemeteries, or vehicles parked in a lot or driving by a city maintained median.
Injuries to equipment operators may be reduced with proper use and maintenance of the equipment, coupled with wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Some injuries associated with the operation of lawn equipment include: cuts and scratches on the lower legs, dust and debris getting into eyes, hand and forearm lacerations, foot injuries and amputations, or back and shoulder strains. Fatalities from falls or rollovers while operating riding mowers are another catastrophic consideration.
Here are some safety tips to consider while using lawn mowers and tractors. Before beginning to mow make sure the area is clear of debris (sticks, rocks, cans, etc.), look for holes or depressions, and identify and mark any large semi-buried rocks or stumps that could damage the mower or cause a rollover. Do not mow while people or animals are in the mowing area. If anyone enters the mowing area while you are mowing stop and shutdown the blade until they pass and are safely out of reach of a flying projectile (about 50 feet). Mow in dry conditions only, not only can wet grass clog the mower, but wet conditions can cause the ground to become unstable causing the mower to slip and slide. Plan to mow during the day. Never mow at night when visibility is limited. Check the weather forecast - never mow during a thunderstorm. Make sure the grass deflectors, blade covers, and other safety guards are in place. If the mower or tractor has a ROPS (rollover protective system) make sure it is in the “up” position and locked in place. Never operate mowers when sleepy or ill.
Match the slope to the mower. If slopes are too steep to mow with a riding mower, use a push mower. With riding mowers, mow up and down a slope – preferably only mowing down the slope and driving (without mowing) back up the slope. When push mowing a slope, mow horizontally across the slope. This will help prevent the operator’s feet from sliding under the blades if the mower or operator slips. Rear engine mowers are fairly unstable and are not recommended to use on slopes, even vertically, due to tip and rollover hazards.
While mowing, do not allow children near the work area, since any kind of accident can occur if the operator is unaware and does not see those who might be attracted by the machine and mowing activity. Never assume children will remain where they were last seen. Keep an eye out for delivery trucks and other vehicles when crossing parking lots and driveways. Arrange the mowing path to avoid propelling objects toward people, vehicles, or buildings with windows. Keep the discharge chute opening lowered at all times and be sure the area is clear of people and pets before operating. If someone approaches your mowing area, stop the blade until they are safely passed. If they approach you on the mower, stop the blade and turn the mower off. Never carry any passengers on the mower or tractor; it is “operator only” aboard the equipment.
Push mowers are designed to be pushed forward. Pulling them backwards increases the risk of accidental contact with the blade. Occasionally, there may be a need to pull the mower backwards while maneuvering, but otherwise try not to mow pulling backwards. On riding mowers and tractors try not to mow in reverse unless absolutely necessary and look in the direction you are traveling if mowing in reverse. Never put your hands or feet into the mower to remove grass or debris. Even with the motor turned off, the blade remains engaged. Use a stick or broom handle to remove obstructions (not your hands). If using a bagger, stop the blade before emptying the bag. Stop the engine before reaching into the discharge chute. Keep movements on slopes slow and gradual. Do not make sudden changes in speed or direction, which could cause a tip or rollover. Do not mow near drop-offs, ditches, or embankments. The mower could suddenly rollover if the wheel goes over the edge or if it caves in. Tall grass can hide objects, holes, or bumps. Go slowly and use caution when mowing through areas where there may be tree stumps or semi-buried rocks hidden by tall grass. If the mower strikes an object, stop, turn off the engine and inspect the mower and blade for damage. If damaged, do not use it until it is repaired. Turn off the blade and wait for it to stop before crossing gravel paths, roads, alleys, or trails. Always stop the blade before removing the grass catcher or unclogging the discharge chute. Before refueling, always allow the engine to cool down a few minutes and never smoke while refueling. Do not run a gasoline or diesel engine indoors without proper ventilation. Shut off the engine and remove the key before leaving the mower unattended, even briefly. When working on the mower, remove the sparkplug wire to prevent an accidental startup. It is especially important while removing the blade – turning the blade bolt with a wrench can turn the blade drive shaft and crank the engine, causing the mower to start. Wear personal protective equipment including work boots, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, hearing protection, and shatterproof safety glasses or goggles.
Taking these precautions can greatly improve your risk management during mowing season. Fewer windows will be broken, vehicles dented, headstones marred, and people injured if we just take the time to “think safe”.