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Take Precautions to Ensure Safety in Yard and Garden

These helpful tips from the Farmington Hills Fire Dept. can prevent accidents and injuries.

Before heading outside to garden or do other yard work, remember accidents can, and do, occur at home. More than 200,000 injuries are associated with yard and garden equipment each year, according to the National Safety Council.

But by taking some simple precautions, you can reduce the chance of being injured.

As the weather becomes warmer and days are longer, we spend as much time as we can outdoors enjoying our backyards. Many of us tackle do-it-yourself projects and others are happy just being outside. But, to be safe, it is important to remember the following safety tips when working in the yard:

  • Store pesticides and herbicides on high shelves or inside locked cabinets, out of the reach of children.

  • Garden tools such as rakes, spades, forks, pruning clippers, files and metal plant stakes should not be left lying around when not in use.

  • Check over all the equipment you plan to use to ensure it is in good condition and that any safety devices are in place and work correctly.

  • Never allow children to operate power lawn and garden equipment. Teenagers may operate the machinery if they posses adequate strength and maturity, and only under adult supervision.

  • If you use chemicals in the yard, keep children and pets away from the area.

  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and a hat if necessary. Clothing should be as close-fitting as possible to avoid being caught in moving parts of equipment.

  • Protect your eyes with goggles or glasses.

  • Protect your hearing when using motor-driven equipment.

  • Wear sturdy shoes with slip-resistant rubber soles.

  • Wear gloves when changing, sharpening or cleaning blades.

  • Do not operate machinery if fatigued, on medications, using alcohol or drugs, or ill.

  • Always wear proper sunscreen protection when working outside. Follow directions and re-apply often.

Riding Mowers

Fatal accidents have occurred from riding lawn mowers, and the risk of an accident is almost twice as likely with a riding lawn mower as a walk-behind mower. A recent mowing accident left a young girl severely injured in Livingston County, after the operator went in reverse and did not see the child behind him, catching her under the mower’s deck. You must be able to clearly see 360 degrees around the mower when in operation. The following are general instructions when operating a riding mower:

  • Only allow the operator on the mower; never carry passengers.

  • Clear the yard of people, pets and any debris before mowing, and stop the mower if anyone enters the area.

  • Slow down before turning.

  • Mow up and down slopes only. Mowing across should be done with a walk-behind mower.

  • Never leave the machine running. Turn off the blades, set the parking brake, stop the engine and remove the keys before dismounting.

  • Never mow on wet grass, which can decrease traction and cause sliding.

  • Rider-mower models made within the last 20 years should meet the 1986 ANSI 871.1 standard, which incorporates several safety features not found on older models.

Power Lawn Mowers

  • When working on the mower, be sure the blade and all moving parts have stopped.

  • When accessing the underside of the mower for inspection or cleaning, always turn it so that the air-filter side of the mower is up. Otherwise, oil will drain out into the air filter and the engine won't start. Also detach the spark-plug wire so the engine won't start accidentally.

  • Keep spark plugs clean, and have an expert adjust the carburetor. Check air filters regularly, and clean or replace them when dirty. Use the gasoline and oil recommended by the manufacturer.

  • Be sure to regularly sharpen rotary mower blades, which operate on the principle of a sickle. It's advisable to have an extra blade on hand so a replacement is available when you detect poor cutting. You can sharpen rotary mower blades with a grinding wheel and file, but be careful not to destroy the balance. To determine which end of the mower blade is out of balance, put a nail in the wall and hang the blade from the hole in the center of the blade. File more off the blade on the heavy end.

  • Excess vibration is an indication of a damaged blade, mounting, or crankshaft. Frequently tighten the blade and engine mounting bolts, as well as any other nuts, bolts and screws. Check mower wheels, bearings and axles for wear and lubrication. If there are grease fittings, check them every couple of months. Replace loose, wobbly wheels. Be sure to keep the drive mechanism on self-propelled mowers in good working order. Check belts and gears for wear and fit.

  • After each use, clean the underside of the mower with a strong stream of water. The metal deck can rust out if residue builds up. To reduce fire hazard, keep the engine free of grass, leaves and excessive grease. Check the grass-catcher bag for wear or deterioration, and replace when necessary. At the end of the mowing season, be sure to drain the gas and follow the winterizing instructions in your owner's manual.

Chain Saws

  • Read your operator’s manual before using the chain saw for the first time.

  • Avoid the danger of “kickback” by using a chain saw (either gasoline-powered or electric) equipped with an anti-kickback device mounted on the tip of the guide bar.

  • Never cut with the tip of the guide bar; always keep your body away from the line of cut. Always cut with the left arm straight and with a firm grip (thumbs and fingers encircling the chain saw handle).

  • Never start cutting until you have a clear work area, secure footing, and a planned retreat path from a falling tree.

  • Use safety footwear, snug-fitting clothing, and eye, hearing, and head protection when operating the chain saw.

  • When operating an electric chain saw, use an extension cord marked for outside use.

  • Never operate a chain saw that is damaged, improperly adjusted, or is not completely and securely assembled. Be sure the saw’s chain stops moving when the throttle-control trigger is released.

  • Keep your chain saw regularly serviced. Competent service personnel should perform all service work.

  • Always bring the saw up to speed before letting the chain touch the wood. Once contact is made, keep cutting at a steady speed; do not speed up or slow down while cutting.

  • Do not cut from a ladder! Let professionals do it. Do not cut above chest height as a saw held higher is difficult to control against kickback.

  • Never operate a chain saw when fatigued, under medication, or drinking.

Trim Edgers

  • Remove debris from work area.

  • Keep people and pets at least 50 feet away when operating equipment.

  • Wear safety protection. Do not use an edger on graveled surfaces.

  • If the edger strikes a foreign object, stop operation, disconnect the spark plug wire, and inspect the unit for damage.

String Trimmers

  • Wear protective clothing with eye and ear protection.

  • Keep firm footing and balance; don’t overreach.

  • Be sure lighting conditions are adequate.

  • Keep your body away from the rotating string head and hot surfaces. Be sure to keep the string head below waist level.

  • Use trimmer only for weeds and grass.

  • Inspect your trimmer for loose fasteners, fuel leaks, and a cracked or chipped string head.

  • Never start or run an engine inside a closed area; exhaust fumes can kill.

  • Remove the spark plug before any repairs.

  • For two-cycle engines, follow fueling and premixing instructions carefully. Wipe up any fuel spillage quickly to prevent fire.

Additionally, stay hydrated. If it’s an “ozone action day,” leave the yard work for another day. Take frequent breaks in the shade; if you’re feeling tired or exhausted, postpone this activity until you’re feeling up to it. If it gets too dark, stop and finish up the following day.

Yard work is tough work, but can be very rewarding once it’s finished. Take time to enjoy the effort you’ve put into your yard, but do so safely.

Editor's Note: Some material re-printed from Heart of America Fire Chiefs Council, Kansas City, MO.

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