Horticulture News: Be safe with outdoor power equipment

By Adam Leonberger, Published:

Summer is in full swing and millions of people are using their mowers, lawn tractors, trimmers, tillers and chipper/shredders to take care of lawn and garden chores. Along the way, some also haul out unsafe operating habits that can lead to injuries.

Larry Piercy, of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, discusses some of the issues related to children and power equipment safety.  

Protect children

Young children move quickly and are attracted to mowing activity. They don’t understand the dangers it poses. Parents should keep young children away from all outdoor power equipment. 

Each year, about 75 people are killed and about 20,000 are injured on or near riding lawnmowers and garden tractors. One out of every five deaths involves a child.

More than 800 young children get run over or backed over by riding mowers each year. This happens when children fall while being given rides, or when they approach the operating mower. Children should never be in the yard while you’re mowing, and they should never ride on the mower.

Children see mowing activity, want to ride along and approach the mower sometimes faster than the adult can see them. Never assume children will remain where you last saw them.

Be alert and turn off the mower if children enter the mowing area. Use extra care when backing up or going around corners, shrubs, trees or other obstacles.

As with all lawnmowers, there is a risk of a thrown object. Small children are at special risk since an object thrown from a lawnmower that would strike an adult in the leg could cause a much more serious injury by striking a small child in the body or the head.

Many children suffer serious burns to their hands and arms when they touch the hot muffler of running or recently running engines. Keep children away from power equipment, especially that which is running or has recently been running.

Protecting children in and around lawn care equipment can be accomplished by taking the appropriate precautions.

While children may want to ride on mowers or other equipment keeping a firm “no riders” policy will help prevent injuries and allow for a safe, enjoyable summer time. 

Safety guidelines recommend that children under the age of 12 not operate power equipment. A person’s body size, strength, coordination, experience and maturity affect his or her ability to safely operate a lawnmower.

Safety precautions 

To improve the safety of mowing equipment for young people as well as adults, consider these tips from Richard Beard, Utah State University Extension Agricultural Engineering Specialist. 

Review the operator’s manual and the manufacturer’s recommendations for safe operation. Perform regular maintenance on your mower as outlined in the operator’s manual. Prior to using your mower, check for worn or loose tires, belts, guards and covers. Mower blades should be sharpened periodically to improve quality of cut and maintain operating efficiency. 

Wear safety glasses, snug fitting clothes, long pants and work shoes when mowing. In some instances, hearing protection is also necessary. Mower shields and guards must remain in place and operational for personal protection.

Know how to turn off the lawnmower in an emergency. Never bypass safety kill switches or levers or disable controls that power blade rotation. Older mowers without safety equipment should be replaced with newer models equipped with modern safety features. 

Do not place hands or other objects in the discharge chute or under the deck while mower is running. Remove objects and debris from the area prior to mowing. Objects such as rocks, stumps and sticks easily become dangerous projectiles.

If a mower has an open discharge chute, direct it away from people, animals or fragile property since injuries from objects launched by mower blades account for many accidents. 

Never leave a running mower unattended. Larger commercial mowers sometimes allow the mowing blade to be disengaged while the engine is running. If using this type of mower, take special care when removing the bag to empty clippings or when doing other activities near the mower while the engine is running. 

Accidents frequently occur when mowers are operated on inclines with wet, slippery grass. To avoid this, wait until the grass is dry, and then mow across the slope with a walk-behind mower or up and down the slope with a riding mower. Don’t allow passengers on riding mowers. 

Be careful when running a mower over a gravel road or other debris-covered surfaces. Disengage the blade while moving the mower or turn the mower off and push it rather than mowing over a dangerous surface. 

Allow fuel-powered mowers to cool before adding fuel or working on the engine. Do not add fuel while the mower is running, and do not mow or add fuel while smoking. When turning power equipment off, allow all rotating parts to stop before making repairs or adjustments. 

Disconnect the spark plug before attempting repairs or blade adjustment on gasoline-powered equipment. If using an AC electric powered mower, mow when the grass is dry to reduce the chance of electrical shock. Also take special care to prevent mowing over electrical power cords. 

As with all power tools, do not hurry when operating. People who mow at excessive speeds are risking injury and death. Work cautiously to protect yourself and others. 

For additional information related to lawnmower safety and equipment, visit http://www.aap.org/family/tipplawn.htm; http://www.cdc.gov/nasd/menu/topic/machinery_mowers.html; http://www.opei.org/. Contact the Franklin County Extension Office at 502-695-9035 or email Adam.Leonberger@uky.edu.

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