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Heavy Equipment Safety

How to Operate Yard Machinery Safely

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Picture of Leaf Hog Blower-Vac

Picture of Black & Decker's "Leaf Hog" leaf blower.

David Beaulieu

After looking at a variety of issues on Page 1, the next two pages focus on the safe use of machinery, to which end I'll be offering heavy equipment safety tips. The dangers posed by machinery are considerable. Whereas you can prevent getting dust in your face while using leaf blowers simply by wearing a mask and goggles, much more serious injuries can be incurred while operating powerful machinery such as rototillers and snowblowers.

General Heavy Equipment Safety

  • Make sure no person or pet is standing close to you when operating outdoor power equipment. Communicate to family members that they never should approach you unannounced when you're operating power equipment.
  • Wear tight-fitting clothing (long pants, long-sleeve shirt), goggles, ear protection, and rugged, slip-resistant footwear.
  • If you have long hair, tie it back.
  • When you have to unclog the discharge chute of power equipment, stop the engine and use a stick to remove the debris, not your hands.
  • Don't let your body come into contact with any part of power equipment that gets hot.
  • Don't leave power equipment running unattended.

Heavy Equipment Safety for Electrical Devices

  • Make sure the ON / OFF switch is in the OFF position before plugging device into an outlet.
  • You shouldn't use any power equipment under wet conditions, but this goes doubly for electrical power equipment.
  • Don't take extension cords for granted. Old, nicked up extension cords should be replaced. Make sure extension cords are the right size for the device's electric current capacity.
  • Be conscious of the whereabouts of the cords at all times, so that you don't trip over them or sever them with your power equipment.
  • Unplug electric power equipment prior to making any adjustments to it.

Heavy Equipment Safety for Gas-Powered Devices

  • Disconnect the spark plug wires prior to making any adjustments, as when you tune up lawn mowers
  • Don't refill a gas tank while the device is running or when the engine is still hot, and wipe up any spillage.
  • Don't leave gas-powered machines running in an enclosed area.
  • Store gas in a proper container, clearly marked, G-A-S.

Now let's look at safety precautions for some specific power equipment.

Power Equipment Safety: String Trimmers

While not heavy equipment, you need to respect the damage that string trimmers are capable of causing.

  • Prior to start-up, check for any damage caused by past usage, fasteners loosened through vibration, or fuel leakage.
  • The key to operating string trimmers safely is achieving a good form and maintaining it consistently.
  • It's easier to operate string trimmers with the proper form if you stay balanced in your footwork. Don't over-extend your arms, which could cause you to lose your balance.
  • Likewise, don't use string trimmers (or mowers) when the grass is wet, lest you slip.
  • Fatigue can ruin your form. As you get tired, you tend to get sloppy in your trimming approach. Using a shoulder strap for your trimmer can help cut down on fatigue.
  • Swing the trimmer in such a way that the arc of your swing won't end up bringing the rotating string head back in the direction of your body. Maintain the cutting head at an angle of about thirty degrees to the ground.
  • The tip of the cutting string should be doing the cutting.
  • A slower, measured swinging motion is safer than a faster, unrestrained motion.
  • Keep the string head below waist level as you swing the trimmer.

Heavy Equipment Safety: Garden Tillers

  • Have your utility lines marked, so that you'll know where not to dig (in fact, do so even if it's only with a shovel that you're digging). In the U.S., 62 "Call Before You Dig" centers are located around the country. Simply dial 811 on the telephone to reach a local representative, who will initiate the process of having the utility companies mark the lines for you.
  • Never clean dirt off the tines while the machine is running.
  • While small garden tillers aren't too difficult to control, the larger ones can be real beasts! Exercise particular caution if you have to rototill on an incline: many injuries have been incurred from large garden tillers falling onto their operators.

Heavy Equipment Safety: Snowblowers

  • Whether you prefer electric snowblowers or gas snowblowers, be aware that these are dangerous machines to operate. A snowblower is designed to pick up snow and throw it. You don't want it trying to throw small objects (sticks, stones, bottles, etc.) that happen to be embedded in that snow. So when snowblowing, stick to pavement or well-maintained gravel surfaces that you know don't hold any surprises.
  • Along the same lines, make sure you know the territory well enough to be aware of any stumps, curbs, etc., so that you can avoid them.
  • When snowblowing on an incline, you should be clearing up and down the incline, not across it.
  • When snowblowing at the street-end of your driveway, be aware that you may have to contend with traffic. Don't turn your back to traffic! You yourself have to take responsibility for your safety. Due to snow drifts, vehicle operators may not be able to see you. Drivers may also loose control on icy roads.

On Page 3 we'll look at heavy equipment safety for a machine almost every homeowner uses: the lawn mower....

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