Taking fatigue out of grounds care

Having entered the grounds-care profession some 30-odd years ago, around the same time Grounds Maintenance was launched, I've seen some pretty dramatic changes in grounds-care equipment and practices. This was a time before spin trimmers-we used manual, scissor-like grass clippers and hand-held sickles to trim grass. Computer-controlled irrigation was unheard of. Most commercial landscapers used 21-inch rotary mowers or compact, homeowner-type tractors, and only a few out-front riding rotaries were available. How times have changed. But even then, manufacturers had a vision for the future of grounds-care equipment that still persists today. In a 1967 Grounds Maintenance interview, Dr. James Watson-then director of the agronomy division of Toro Manufacturing Corp. (now called The Toro Co.)-revealed some of this forward thinking. "The equipment that will be available in the next few years (some of which is already under development) will almost certainly continue to emphasize the performance trends of current mowing equipment. These are labor savings and therefore cost savings through greater capacity-cut more acres per day per man-increased maneuverability, more durable and less fatiguing for the operator," Watson said. Reflecting on how this industry has followed this course in developing today's products, this issue focuses on grounds-care equipment.

As Dr. Watson predicted, manufacturers today place more emphasis on ergonomics in the design of grounds-care equipment. Ergonomics refers to the science of using biological and engineering information to solve problems relating to men and machines. Engineering equipment that reduces worker fatigue makes workers more productive and improves the work environment. For example, consider some of today's well-balanced, lightweight chainsaws vs. the back-breaking behemoths of yesteryear. By considering the aspects that fatigue a chainsaw operator (poor weight distribution and heavy weight), engineers have redesigned chainsaws with the operator in mind. To help you in your search for ergonomically designed equipment, turn to "The art of ergonomics" (page 12). Here you'll find a list of the more important ergonomic characteristics to consider when purchasing hand-held equipment.

Fatigue is one aspect that ergonomic design addresses, and it also is addressed by riding-mower designs. Where you have a large expanse of high-quality turf-such as a golf course, sports field or formal corporate setting-it will be hard for you to beat a riding reel mower to meet the task. They are productive, comfortable to drive and provide a good quality cut at low mowing heights. Depending on the type of facility you maintain, you have some choices to make in selecting a mower. P. Mark Johnson, vice president of Prairie Rivers Ltd. and a director of the Turf Equipment Technician's Association, guides you through the choices in "Equipment Options: Riding reel mowers" (page 38).

Grounds-care equipment being what it is-machinery-it is subject to wear and must be maintained. When it doesn't work properly, you must diagnose the cause and repair it to working condition. To help you solve equipment problems, turn to this month's "How To" installment on power-equipment troubleshooting (page 42).

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