No matter the type of equipment, prolonged use can increase the risk of injury. Industry experts suggest training crews to follow these best practices:
- Pay attention to posture. “Any time you’re sitting for a prolonged period, we see injuries,” says Joe Ruhl, physical therapist and managing partner of E & A Therapy outside of Philadelphia. “When you combine that with bouncing and bumpy turns on a mower, the risk is accentuated. Posture is critical. You want to make sure to sit in an erect position.” When riding a stand-on mower, avoid slouching.
- Take short breaks. Every hour or so, get off of the tractor and walk around it a couple of times, reach up to the sky or do some stretching to balance out all of that sitting. Even a 30-second break can help.
- Be smart when lifting. Lift with the legs rather than bend at the waist.
- Avoid prolonged gripping. If a property requires extensive use of a walk-behind mower, try to rotate operators to prevent overuse injuries from gripping the safety bar. When possible, use machines that don’t require constant gripping.
- Always use safety equipment. Make sure crews are aware of how and why to use roll bars, seat belts, ear and eye protection and other safety essentials. Then, enforce their use.
- Consider equipment with less vibration and noise. Use electric machines, such as trimmers, whenever possible for jobs requiring hand-held equipment. This type of equipment produces less vibration and noise than gas-powered machines.
- Wear proper apparel. Comfortable, protective, weather-appropriate clothing will help keep fatigue at bay. Don’t forget the shoes. “If you’re doing a lot of walking and you don’t have great shoes, you open yourself up to foot injuries,” Ruhl warns.
- Give new or seasonal workers a break-in period. Operators who are suddenly thrown into doing a new activity for many hours a day may succumb to overuse injuries that could be prevented by simply easing them into the job. Try switching up the tasks they are assigned. For instance, have them spend part of the day walking and the other part riding.
- Include ergonomics training. “If we can utilize the ergonomic-friendly features already built in to our current units, we can prevent injuries from occurring,” says Alex Moore, commercial landscape management account manager with Michael Hatcher & Associates Inc. in Memphis, Tennessee. “We train all new employees on each piece of equipment they will come into contact with. Some of the most important factors we stress concerning ergonomics include how to get on and off of the machines and how to load and unload the mowing equipment safely.”