MOWER SAFETY begins with the operator

As we enter the mowing season, it's time to brush up on your mowing safety procedures to increase your productivity and help keep yourself free of injury. Although many users have years of mowing experience, sometimes safety precautions are overlooked. And the results can be dangerous.

Staying aware of sight conditions, knowing your machine and constantly being alert can help you avoid accidents and injury. Of course, every operator should always refer to the operator's manual for routine maintenance schedules and safety tips. Here are some general mower-safety guidelines to help get you started.

Before mowing

  • 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 protection, eye protection, work boots with traction and heavy gloves (when handling blades). Do not wear loose-fitting clothes or jewelry, which can get caught or hung up on a machine and cause injury.

  • Know your machine. All mowers of a given type have some of the same basic equipment parts. For example, front-deck mowers all have features such as panel controls, seat controls, foot controls, fuel tank, fuel filter, engine oil fill and check, hydraulic oil fill and check, mower deck, grass deflector, height adjustments, radiator and air cleaner. However, every machine includes unique features, so read your operator's manual to familiarize yourself with your machine. As any minor and major machine problems arise, report them to your supervisor or mechanic. Reporting problems right away will help you avoid potential hazards.

  • 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 on your mower. Also, check the safety guards and devices to ensure that they are in proper working condition. Never operate your mower if your safety guards and devices are not in place.

  • Conduct daily inspections. Always conduct your daily mower inspections on a hard, flat surface away from the mowing area. Open the hood and check the mower's oil level. Check the hydraulic system for the appropriate level of fluid. Inspect the cooling system to make sure there is enough coolant in the radiator. Clean any debris off the screen and front of the radiator. Check the condition of your air-restriction indicator or the condition of your air cleaner and empty any debris found. Ensure that all parts, such as belts, pulleys, catchers and guards, are in proper working order. Also, check the tire pressure. Always refer to your operator's manual for step-by-step start-up procedures and daily machine inspections.

  • Adjust the cutting height of your deck. If you are using multiple pieces of mowing equipment on the same landscape area, make sure that the height of your mower deck is consistent on all machines so you'll have a uniform cut. Never adjust the mower height when the engine is running. All adjustments should be made while the engine is turned off.

  • Check your collection/discharge system. Most commercial mowers will have some combination of material collection system (MCS), side discharge or mulching system. Always check to make sure that your MCS, discharge chute and mulching attachments are properly secured and in good working order. Never start the mower if attachments are not securely fastened.

  • Check the fuel level. Check your mower's fuel level and fill if necessary so that you start your day with a full tank of fuel. If you refuel during the day, move your mower to a flat, concrete surface, turn the engine off and allow the engine to cool. (Refilling after lunch or an afternoon break is convenient.) Carefully fill the fuel tank and avoid spilling. Spilled gasoline will evaporate, releasing hydrocarbon emissions into the atmosphere. Also, never smoke around gasoline.

  • Clear your work area. Before you begin your job, walk the mowing area and clear all hidden hazards, such as rocks, stumps and hidden debris like broken glass, bottles and miscellaneous materials. Injuries may occur from debris that is projected into the air by mower impact. Projected debris can cause injuries to operators, pedestrians and property.

  • Inspect your work area for nature's hazards. While inspecting your work area for debris, be on the lookout for bees, fire ants, poison ivy and poison oak. Taking note of potential area hazards will increase your productivity as well as your safety. Also, avoid improper working conditions such as overly saturated grounds, which can cause slippery conditions.

While mowing

  • Make a perimeter pass. Always start your mower from the operator's seat — never while standing beside the mower. Once you are ready to mow, engage the PTO. When engaging the blades, do so at the lowest recommended engine setting rather than at full throttle. Release the brake and gradually depress the foot pedal to begin forward motion. Start by making a perimeter pass with the discharge chute or grass catcher to the inside — that is, away from the sidewalk, pavement, curb or whatever structure borders the turf. This will keep the mower from hitting curbs, trees, bushes and any other obstacles. The perimeter pass will allow you to make U-turns in the grass, thereby avoiding tire and grass stains on the concrete.

  • Start mowing. Always mow in straight lines, alternating directions and changing the pattern every week, if possible. For the best-quality cut, make sure your blades are sharp and mow with the engine running at maximum speed. If you are mowing long grass, use the highest cut setting for the first pass, and then make a second pass to cut the grass at a lower setting. Discharge clippings toward previously cut lawn areas. Never position the side-discharge chute toward people or property.

  • Know your surroundings. To avoid injury to yourself or others, pay attention to people around you. If a person or animal approaches you while working, stop your mower and turn off the engine. You may resume mowing once the work area is clear of all people and animals.

  • Avoid rubbing objects. When mowing, keep a safe distance from trees and other landscape features. Avoid hitting or rubbing the mower or its tires on any buildings, cars, signs, trees and other property features. Serious landscaping and property damage can occur, not to mention unnecessary wear to your equipment.

  • Pick up any missed debris. If you see any debris that you missed in your initial inspection, stop the machine, turn off the engine and pick up the debris. Do not attempt to clear debris while the machine's engine is still running.

  • Unclog the deflection chute. Sometimes while mowing, the deflection chute can become clogged with grass clippings. To unclog it, turn off the engine and make sure the blades are stopped. To ensure safety, 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 cutting blades.

  • Be extra careful on slopes. Always mow up and down slopes — never mow across slopes. Decrease your speed when mowing down slopes or around sharp corners to help prevent tipping. Maintain minimal ground speed and make wide, gradual turns; avoid sudden starts, stops and turns. Remember: if it looks dangerous, it almost certainly is dangerous, so use caution accordingly.

After mowing

  • Shut down before performing maintenance. Refer to your operator's manual for proper shutdown procedures. Always shut down your machine from the operator's seat — never dismount from a running mower. Make sure that the mower is completely stopped and the engine is off before you begin your clean-up and maintenance procedures. Your operator's manual will detail specific daily clean-up and maintenance tasks.

  • Clean your mower. Your mower should be cleaned after each job by removing clippings and other landscaping debris from the mower, mower deck and deflection chute. Lingering debris can cause unwanted buildup and potential malfunctions or breakdowns of parts. Also, accumulation of grass, leaves or excessive grease can be a fire hazard.

  • Perform routine maintenance. Preventive maintenance is key to your machine's longevity. Although your operator's manual will provide specific routine maintenance procedures, certain common maintenance procedures apply to all commercial mowers. After each mowing job, you should check your mower's tire pressure and adjust if necessary. Check all fluid levels, belts, guards and blades. From your inspections, prepare a list of potential maintenance problems for your supervisor or mechanic.

  • Tend to repairs immediately. If your machine requires any repairs, tend to them immediately. Delaying machine and parts repairs will delay productivity. If repairs are overlooked and the mower is reused, damage to additional mower parts or operator injury may result.

  • Maintain recommended maintenance schedule. Refer to your operator's manual for routine daily, monthly, quarterly and yearly maintenance procedures. Keeping your machine in top condition can help you increase your productivity and decrease any risk of injuries.

Before you start up your mower this year, be certain you've taken all the necessary precautions. By following these guidelines, you can ensure a safe mowing season, not only for yourself, but for those around you as well.

Gilbert Peña is marketing manager for Commercial Mowing at John Deere Worldwide Commercial & Consumer Equipment Division (Raleigh, N.C.).

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