Regular training and the use of protective gear will reduce injuries and claims

Editor’s Note: The above article appeared in a previously published PLANET publication and is shared courtesy of PLANET. For more information, visit

One of the most important issues we deal with in the green industry is safety. How safety policies and procedures are implemented within your company deserve your utmost attention. Mowers and maintenance equipment are used daily by crews, and every operator must be well versed in the safe operation of each machine they use.

Mowers, various trimmers, blowers and edgers all create different safety issues and need individual safety attention wrapped within a complete safety policy and procedure program. Refer to the safety section of equipment manufacturers’ operator’s manuals, have them readily available and be sure your operators have read them.

Mowing equipment is factory equipped with certain safety mechanisms that are designed to protect the operator. These mechanisms should be checked daily for proper operation, and equipment operators must be instructed to use them accordingly. You would not allow your drivers to operate vehicles without seat belts, and you should be sure your crews are using the safety mechanisms on mowing equipment such as seat belts. Rollover protective structures, or ROPS, are a standard feature on most riding mowers. ROPS protect the operator in a rollover situation, but also pose a safety hazard when fully extended while the machine is operated in areas where low-hanging limbs or other overhanging obstructions are present.

Mower safety

Train operators to use their ROPS appropriately. Side-discharge chutes are designed to direct blade-thrown objects downward and prevent the operator from coming in contact with the machine’s cutting blades. Blade tip speed and blade stop times on commercial mowers are limited by the voluntary ANSI standards and most manufacturers subscribe to these standards. Be sure your equipment supplier subscribes to the ANSI standards so your operators are protected by industry-designated safety standards.

Walk-behind mowers have safety mechanisms to keep the operator out of the cutting area while the blades are running. They also have operator presence controls that stop the machine or engine if the operator leaves the operating position behind the controls. Walk-behind commercial mowers are covered by the same ANSI standards for blade tip speed as commercial riders.

Many maintenance companies use sulkies that trailer behind walk-behind mowers so the operator does not have to walk for long periods. Sulkies present safety hazards if operated at high speed, during sharp turns or on uneven terrain. Be sure your operators are trained in the safe operation of walk-behind mowers and sulkies.

Stand-on mowers are really riding mowers the operator stands on rather than sits on, and operators should be instructed in their safe operation. Proper eye protection and footwear should be part of your safety policy.

Safety training

Matt Bland, vice president of Bland Landscaping Co., Inc. in Apex, N.C., says employee training is part of a comprehensive safety program. “We spend a great deal of time training employees on each piece of equipment they are allowed to run. The training starts at day one, and our modules are expanded versions of the manufacturers’ manuals that come with the equipment. The employee will go through a probationary period once they have been trained until they are viewed as proficient by their manager. It is important to have standards for this training and to keep good documentation in case of an OSHA visit or liability claim.”

Bill Gordon, president of Signature Landscape in Olathe, Kans., says, “Years ago, as our company developed, we realized that wearing safety glasses and hearing protection while mowing was critical. I was reluctant to require crews to wear steel-toed shoes out of concern for the men’s comfort. We subsequently had a man receive a serious injury when a mower blade cut through his shoe and into his foot. Fortunately, over time he had a complete recovery and I realized that the men’s safety was more important than comfort. We developed a program for the men to purchase steel-toed shoes from a company carrying a wide range of comfortable and lightweight protective footwear on our account.

“We then deducted the cost of the shoes from a couple of paychecks to minimize the financial hit. Two years later we had a similar accident, but the steel-toed shoe stopped the blade from cutting through the operator’s foot. We now use the damaged shoe in our safety training program to demonstrate the importance of steel-reinforced footwear.”

Use protective equipment

Hand-held equipment comes in several categories: line trimmers, edgers, pole saws, backpack and hand-held blowers, hedge trimmers and chain saws. Special attention should be given to your employees’ safety practices when operating these machines. Wearing eye protection, gloves to protect hands and reduce vibration and sound-reducing hearing protection are essential to operator safety. Most manufacturers provide sound and vibration specifications. When crews are working together in close proximity, operators need to be trained to carefully operate equipment and keep a safe distance from other crew members on the job site.

According to Miguel Vasquez, safety director of AAA Landscape in Phoenix, Ariz., their company policy is the mandatory wearing of chain saw safety chaps when operating hedge trimmers. AAA Landscape requires other appropriate safety protection for all equipment operators.

Right tool for the job

Bland says, “Selecting the right equipment for the job starts at the job planning stage to make sure you have the correct tools to safely perform your tasks. Once we acquire the right equipment, we set policies and train employees to make sure they make wise selections in the field. An example would be selecting a walk-behind mower instead of a riding mower when mowing steep inclines or near water hazards.” He adds, “The equipment must be kept in good working order, especially the built-in safety features designed by the manufacturer. Strong maintenance routines will keep the equipment running longer and will help ensure that it is operating safely. We keep a close eye out for employees tampering with safety devices in the field, such as folding chutes up on mowers, disarming engine cutoffs, or doing makeshift repairs.”

Bland emphasized the importance of enforcing safety policies. “It’s important that you stick to your game plan and enforce your safety guidelines in the field and with management. Many insurance agencies and underwriters have field employees to assist with analyzing field activities for safety.”

In today’s business environment, safety is definitely no accident.

Rick Cuddihe, CLP, serves on the PLANET Safety & Risk Management Committee and has served on the Outdoor Power Equipments Institute’s Commercial Mowing Safety Committee. You can reach Rick at [email protected].