Beautifying your surroundings shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg — or a finger or foot.
Come spring and summer, the buzz of lawn maintenance and landscape equipment fills the air. While this equipment is essential to a lush, tidy lawn or park, as with all equipment, safety precautions are paramount.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, landscaping is one of the highest-hazard service sectors, with many of the injuries resulting from contact with objects and equipment. Lawnmower injuries alone account for nearly 6,400 hospital visits on average in the United States each year, most of them requiring surgery and hospitalization.
No matter what piece of lawn maintenance equipment you’re using, taking a few basic precautions can help prevent many injuries. For example:
- Wear appropriate clothing, such as long pants, work boots, protective glasses, earplugs and gloves. Don’t wear loose clothing or jewelry that might get entangled in machinery.
- Examine the equipment to make sure no parts, including safety guards, are damaged or missing.
- Keep your hands out of the machine. Never put your hand into or under a machine when it’s turned on or when the blades are turning.
- Clear the work area of items such as children’s toys, rocks, wire, glass and branches.
- Do whatever it takes to make sure all work with powered equipment is performed at a safe distance from bystanders, including kids who might enter the yard.
- Never leave a powered machine unattended with the engine running.
- Learn how to stop or reverse the machine in case of emergency.
Take additional precautions with these pieces of equipment:
Augers make quick work of post digging but respect their power. Keep yourself braced in case of kickback. Don’t drill too close to a wall or other structure that kickback can throw you against. Don’t overuse your back muscles; lift and absorb shock with your legs. Most important, before digging, call 811 to make sure you won’t hit an underground utility line.
Protect your feet from a tiller’s rotating metal tines with sturdy, rough-soled work shoes or boots. Quality footwear with good traction will also help you control the tiller as it cuts into the soil. Change the settings only when the engine is off. Before tilling, call 811 to make sure you won’t hit an underground utility line.
With more than 36,000 people in the United States injured each year by chainsaws, proper safety gear and good decision-making are essential. Wear the right PPE, including a hard hat, safety glasses, hearing protection, work gloves and cut-resistant pants that cover your boots. Make sure the teeth of the chainsaw are sharp and that the lubrication reservoir is full. Whenever the chainsaw is not engaged, including on startup, double-check that the chain brake is activated. To avoid a dangerous kickback, ensure that the chainsaw’s tip does not come in contact with either the wood or any small brush around your cut.
These machines, useful for turning small branches and tree limbs into mulch, are loud and capable of ejecting wood chips at high velocities, so ear, eye, head and foot protection are critical. Before starting the machine, make sure the hood covering the knives is closed and latched. Stand at the sides of the machine when feeding materials into it. Feed materials butt-end first, and don’t overload the machine. Use a pole, broomstick or long branch to push debris into the hopper.
Aerators use spikes to punch holes in the soil and increase nutrient and water absorption. Walk-behind models can be adjusted to operate at a comfortable pace, but be mindful of slopes, and avoid grades that exceed 25 percent. To avoid injuring yourself or property, slow down when maneuvering between objects or around ground hazards such as sprinklers.
Clear the hedge of sticks ahead of time and look out for objects such as electrical cables. Start the trimmer on the ground, holding it tight with one hand. Trim from the ground, never from a stool or ladder, and avoid overreaching. Cut with smooth, bottom-up motions to keep the trimmer at a safe distance from your body.
Eye protection is key when using a weed trimmer since the spinning plastic lines that tear through weeds can kick up debris such as stones and sticks. Of the more than 80,000 injuries caused by weed trimmers over the course a decade, more than 42 percent were eye related. Check that the blocking guard is firmly attached and start the machine on the ground. Keep the cutting mechanism below waist height. Shut off the engine before putting the machine down.
Accidents from lawn maintenance and landscaping equipment can be life-changing. Whether you’re a professional landscaper or DIYer determined to have the best lawn on the block, take the time and the care necessary to ensure that the only objects cut, chipped or trimmed are natural ones, and that your eyes remain intact to admire your work.
Michael D’Estries is a freelance writer who specializes in science, innovation and the arts.