Think Safety This Spring

The grass is green and growing and the mowing season is in high gear. Don't let a case of spring fever catch your team off guard … now is the time to refresh yourself and your employees on the importance of mowing safety. If you don't already have a safety program, there are many resources available to you. In addition to materials from trade associations and national safety organizations, many equipment manufacturers also provide safety materials for their products. Employing this information to take the proper precautions can save tremendous amounts in terms of human suffering as well as the costs associated with grounds care-related injuries.

Whether you care for local or county municipality grounds, parks or sports fields, residential landscapes or golf courses, below are some general mowing safety guidelines that may be useful to your grounds maintenance department:

BEFORE MOWING

Know the machine

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While all machines have some of the same basic parts, each will have unique features. Start by reading the operator's manual when working with an unfamiliar machine. These manuals have detailed information on how to dress appropriately, the correct way to operate the machine, and how to service and maintain the equipment.

Read warning labels and check safety features

There are dangers associated with operating any power equipment, so pay attention to all warning labels and safety features. Also, check the safety guards and devices such as discharge chutes and rollover protection systems (ROPS) to ensure they are in proper working condition. Never operate the mower if safety guards and devices are not in place. Make sure all operators are familiar with pinch and wrap points, shear and cutting points, pull-in points, crush points, etc.

Conduct daily inspections

Inspect mowers daily on a hard, flat surface away from the mowing area. Check all fluid levels, including engine, hydraulic and cooling systems. Clean any debris off the front of the radiator. Check the condition of the air restriction indicator and empty any debris found in the air cleaner. Ensure that all belts, pulleys and guards are in proper working order. Also, check the tire pressure.

Inspect the work area

Before beginning any job, walk the area and clear any hidden hazards, such as rocks, stumps and debris like broken glass and trash. Injuries to operators, pedestrians and property may occur from debris projected into the air by mower impact.

Dress for the job

Safety precautions are not limited to reading your operator's manual and performing maintenance on your machine. In fact, safety begins with the clothes you wear to work. Choose close-fitting clothes and long pants, hearing and eye protection, work boots with traction, and heavy gloves when handling blades.

WHILE MOWING

Know your surroundings

To avoid injury to yourself or others, pay attention to the work area. If a person or an animal approaches you while working, stop the mower and turn off the engine. Only resume mowing when the work area is clear.

Unclog the deflection chute

Sometimes, while mowing, the deflection chute can become clogged with grass clippings. To unclog the deflection chute, turn off the engine and make sure the blades are stopped. Disconnect the spark plug wire and use a tool or stick to clear grass clippings. Never clear the deck or chute with your hands, and never place your hands or feet near the blades.

Maintain control

Maintaining total control of the machine - whether it's a walk-behind or a riding mower - can significantly reduce the chances of injuries.

When operating walk-behind mowers, good traction means added control. Start by wearing sturdy work boots with thick, treaded soles. Traction is especially important when mowing slopes or hillsides or in damp conditions.

The general rule for operating walk-behind mowers on slopes is to move across the area. If the slope is too steep to control the mower, shut off the blade and move the machine down the hill slowly. Terrain that is too steep to mow safely should be landscaped with ground covers.

Mowing slopes with large riding equipment like front mowers also poses a safety concern. Before mowing, make sure the equipment is properly ballasted with front or rear weights and that the tires are set as wide as possible. Always mow up and down slopes when using these large mowers. However, because the weight distribution is much different on zero-turn radius mowers, it's best to mow across the hill to protect from rollover. No matter the mower type, always avoid sudden starts, stops and turns.

AFTER MOWING

Clean the equipment

Clean the mower after each job by removing clippings and other debris from the machine, mower deck and deflection chute. Lingering debris can cause unwanted buildup and potential malfunctions and can also be a fire hazard.

Maintain recommended maintenance schedule

Refer to your operator's manual for routine maintenance procedures. Keeping your machine in top condition can help you increase your productivity and decrease any risk of injuries.

Wes Freeman is brand manager of commercial mowing for John Deere Worldwide Commercial & Consumer Equipment Division.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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