The use of powered mowers to maintain landscaping can be business unto itself or an ancillary task added to other job duties. Either way, the use of walking or riding power mowers without basic control measures in place opens the door for a major injury, property damage, and bad public relations issues. To avoid these exposures, it is critical that managers or supervisors avoid assumptions that a worker knows the proper operation and safety precautions for the equipment they’ll use. Take the time to verify. Employees may be embarrassed or afraid to admit their lack of knowledge, or they may assume they can safely handle the job, only to end up contributing to an injury or property loss. Following these tips can minimize that risk.
- Start with safe mowing basics - Train all operators on the equipment specifics and basic safety rules.
In addition to knowing the equipment’s specific functions and safety features, it is important that operators understand the basic Ps of safe mowing:
- Pre-inspect the equipment and the work area
- Pre-plan the cutting path to avoid hazards
- Proper apparel and protective equipment (e.g., foot, eye, and hearing protection)
- Point discharge away
- Pause as needed to evaluate, cool down or hydrate
- Pay attention to the work area
- Power down the equipment if anyone enters the mowing area and during fueling procedures
- Provide targeted training on the common hazards that lead to Injury
- Rollovers and runovers
- Caught in/struck by moving parts
- Struck by/caught between fixed objects
- Struck by thrown objects
- Traffic-related incidents – loading/unloading and during operations near roadways
- Control risk factors that increase the likelihood of loss
When using a riding mower, it is safer to go up and down hills than across slopes. The opposite is true when using a walk-behind mower. This reduces the risk of a rollover.
Overriding safety mechanisms
Automatic shutoffs, belt guards, and discharge covers are in place to protect the operator and others in the area. Disengaging or bypassing any safety component should be prohibited and routine inspections should be made to ensure their integrity.
It is easy to become complacent when it comes to using PPE; however, powered mowers can exceed safe noise levels and discharge objects with excessive force. Feet and hands can be exposed to sharp objects, body parts could contact hot components, and splashes may occur during fueling. Having the right PPE readily available and ensuring its use can prevent these exposures from leading to a serious injury.
Failing to survey/prepare the mowing area
The temptation may be to crank up the equipment and begin work; however, it is important to complete a quick survey of the mowing area first. This allows for identifying terrain hazards such as holes, dips, ditches, or embankments, and for removing debris such as sticks, bottles, cans, or rocks. Debris can be thrown from the machine at speeds as high as 200 mph.
Just like driving a motor vehicle on the road, operating a powered mower requires staying alert for changing conditions. Listening to music or other media can reduce awareness, mask critical audio signals and may create additional noise exposure.
Underestimating equipment speed and power
Some zero-turn and commercial mowers can move and maneuver at an unexpectedly fast speed. Training and practice are important, especially for employees who have not worked with similar equipment in the past.
Incorrectly loading lawn care equipment
When moving equipment in a truck or on a trailer from one jobsite to another, it’s important that mowers, weed eaters, rakes and other equipment are properly secured. You don’t want items to be damaged or to fly out of the vehicle during transport.
- Keep equipment ready to use
In addition to proper training, safe operation of a powered mower consists of making sure the equipment is maintained and safe to use. This includes adhering to the manufacturer’s instructions for operation and maintenance and ensuring that the provided roll over protection system (ROPS), guards, seat belts and shields are in place and secure. Keep a checklist of recommended inspection items and service frequency for the equipment and document when the work is completed. If equipment is unsafe for use, it should be tagged “out of service” and disabled or locked out to prevent attempted use.
- Pre-Plan for emergencies
Just like preparing ahead for the workday by having the right fuel, equipment, and PPE on hand, it is important to pre-plan for a loss event to minimize its severity. This could include portable fire extinguishers, oil/fuel spill materials, first-aid supplies, and locating nearby acute care facilities or verifying cell coverage for reaching 911. Outdoor activities can result in excess heat/sun exposure, as well as the potential for severe reactions to bites, stings, or poisonous plants. It is important to maintain hydration, and to understand the signs/symptoms of a heat-related illness or a severe reaction to allow for a prompt response before a life-threatening situation develops.
PPE for Keeping Workers Safe
Mowing and Trimming Safely, an OSHA manual
OSHA Resource Page - Landscaping Hazards