For many, this will be the first year to honor their loved one on Memorial Day. Ribbons, flowers, flags, balloons, and crosses decorate resting places and celebrate those held dear. Although the decorations begin appearing the last weekend of May, preparation of the cemetery began months ago. When family or friends visit, all they will notice is the condition of their loved one’s grave. You want to make sure that what they see is a clean, well-maintained site.
In maintaining the cemetery, the single most damaging lawn maintenance activity (to headstones) is mowing. In addition, mowing is frequently the single largest cemetery expenditure. It is critical that lawn mowing is done in a manner the protects the monuments, as well as the lawn. The most serious issue is the routine removal of grass in the immediate vicinity of gravestones and tombs. The best practice is to mow to within 12-inches of markers and finish the work using hand shears. This approach, however, is almost universally cost prohibitive. Another approach is the permanent removal of grass around the bases of stones. The solution is usually discouraged since it creates an unnatural and unattractive landscape and its long-term maintenance creates additional costs and threats to the stone (especially since there will be an inclination to use weed killer as a simple solution).
The best workable solution is to use no power mower within 12-inches of the markers. Weed whips (rotating nylon filament trimmers) may then be used – with extreme care – to finish the job up to the stone. For these procedures to cause minimal damage, four precautions are absolutely critical:
1. The maintenance crew must be carefully trained and closely supervised. They must understand that the historic markers are very fragile and that the activities used on residential or commercial grounds are unacceptable for cemeteries.
2. Only walk behind mowers should be used – riding mowers offer too little control and operators are too inclined to take chances in an effort to speed the mowing up and get on to another job.
3. All mowers – even when used no closer than 23 inches – must have bumper guards installed to offer additional protection. This can be achieved by using cable ties to attach closed cell foam, such as that used for the insulation of pipes, to the sides, front, and rear of all mowers.
4. The nylon string in the trimmers must be the lightest gauge possible – no heavier than 0.09 inch.
Perhaps the best protection from mower damage, however, is the active involvement of the superintendent in the oversight of landscape maintenance operations – inspections by the superintendent should be made during and after mowing operations.
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”.
Weeds have a tendency to sprout alongside walkways, buildings, and cemetery headstones on municipal grounds. Few lawn mowers can safely get into these edges and corners as needed to cut weeds and tall grass. A weed trimmer is the best way to reach these spots. Consider the following safety tips for using weed trimmers.
Prepare the site – walk the area to be trimmed prior to starting. Remove debris, sticks, stones, and other obstacles or potential hazards. Make sure there are no people or pets in the area and stay alert to anyone or anything entering your workspace while trimming. Prepare the weed trimmer by checking the safety guards and shields, making sure they are in place. Verify there is enough nylon line in the spool. Fill the fuel tank and always allow the engine to cool down before refueling.
When trimming, keep in mind that lawn trimmers can throw objects at high speeds, so avoid working near people, vehicles, and delicate building structures. Never attempt to adjust or repair a weed trimmer while the engine is running. Keep the line short so it does not extend past the guard on the head of the weed trimmer. Keep one hand on the handle and one hand on the shaft of the trimmer to provide greater control. If provided, use a shoulder strap for support to help with weight and vibration of the weed trimmer. This can help prevent back, shoulder, and arm fatigue or strains. When trimming, keep the throttle at full speed, but be able to maintain control of the trimmer. Swing the trimmer in a slow smooth arcing motion. Move the trimmer forward and step forward to cover more ground. Don’t over extend the trimmer with just your arms or bending forward, as this could cause excess fatigue.
Watch for hidden obstacles like wires, fence posts, rocks, or bricks that could cause the trimmer to bounce backwards or entangle the line and jam the trimmer. This could cause injury to the operator or damage the equipment. Wear work boots, hearing protection, eye and face protection, long pants and long-sleeved shirts to protect your body.
Working outside, other personnel safety precautions include dealing with weather and natural conditions. Consider the following additional safety tips while using weed trimmers. If you are working near a street or roadway, wear a reflective vest. Be aware of nearby traffic and parked vehicles and position yourself so you won’t accidentally throw objects into traffic or vehicles. Don’t listen to music with headphones, as it can be a distraction and add to noise exposure. Use sun block and wear a hat to protect from sun exposure. Use an insect repellant with at least 10% DEET to protect from mosquito and tick bites. Stay hydrated, drinking about 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes. Be able to identify and avoid poisonous plants like poison ivy, poison sumac, and nettles. Watch out for venomous spiders, caterpillars, and snakes. Keep a first-aid kit handy and include EpiPens and a snakebite kit in the kit.
The key to safe operation of weed trimmers varies; select the proper type of weed trimmer for the job. Make sure operators are properly trained to use the equipment. Survey the work area and identify or remove obstacles and hazards. Don’t work around people or pets. Inspect and maintain your equipment frequently and follow the manufacturer’s maintenance and safety instructions. Wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Compliance with these safety considerations can help better protect workers, citizens, and the municipality from injury, property damage, and tort claims.
Workers operating riding mowers face serious safety issues. Their employers need to make sure the equipment in use is designed and maintained with safety in mind. Employers must make sure that workers are trained to avoid hazardous surroundings. Finally, the employer must ensure that mowing operations are performed safely.