Yard Work Safety Tips

Posted by Lori Gelvin Wednesday, May 26, 2021 3:17:00 PM

Amid all the green lawns and manicured gardens of summer lies a grim statistic: Every year, while mowing the grass, cutting a branch, or power washing a deck, at least 100 people die and an estimated 143,000 are injured badly enough to require a trip to the emergency room.

The injuries people suffer run the gamut from overexertion and dehydration to cuts and amputations from using all kinds of power equipment. It's also worth noting that in our research, we also came across a disturbing number of injuries associated with a common piece of equipment that doesn't have a motor at all: ladders. Falls from ladders cause more injuries than all the power equipment in our research combined, resulting in broken backs, ankles, legs, and hips.

But using power equipment can cause far worse accidents. When working in the yard turns deadly, it can be due to carbon monoxide poisoning from a gas-powered engine running in an enclosed space, for example, or people getting trapped under large equipment, like a riding lawn mower.

And it’s not just the person doing the yard work who’s at risk. Bystanders also get hurt, such as children who have been killed or injured when playing near a mower or other outdoor power gear. 

To help you avoid getting hurt—or worse—CR analyzed data on injuries related to outdoor gear and power equipment from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which is maintained by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

We looked at records representing 428,474 injuries that resulted in visits to the emergency room from 2015 to 2017, as well as 383 reported fatalities from 2015 to 2018. Our analysis focused on injuries related to outdoor power equipment typically used around the home.

None of this gets you off the hook for working in the yard. “There are some simple precautions you can take to avoid hurting yourself or others,” says Don Huber, director of product safety at Consumer Reports. Below are details on the kinds of injuries people suffer using five common pieces of power equipment—lawn mower, string trimmer/power clipper, pressure washer, chain saw, and generator—and CR's expert advice for how to stay safe.

Lawn Mowers

Annual ER visits: 87,600 
Deaths: 77
A lot of things can go wrong when you’re using a mower, considering its motor can spin a sharp blade faster than 200 miles per hour. That blade can fling a projectile like a rock or dog toy as far as 100 feet. But a mower’s blade can cause injuries without the machine even being on: About 20 percent of people who get hurt cut themselves, mostly on their fingers or hands while changing or sharpening the mower blade or removing something stuck in it.

When a walk-behind or riding mower is in use, the injuries can be considerably more gruesome. Those sharp, spinning blades can amputate a finger, toe, or even a foot when someone slips under the mower, as happened to 3 percent of the more than 85,000 people injured by mowers. Some of those were small children. “When you’re working in your yard, you should always be aware of your surroundings, especially if any children or bystanders are nearby,” says Huber. "This is especially important when using loud equipment like a lawn mower because you can't hear someone approaching."

The most dangerous scenario? Using a riding mower over uneven terrain. Most fatalities occurred when a riding mower flipped, say, over an embankment, pinning the operator underneath. A less common, but just as deadly cause is carbon monoxide poisoning. That's what happened to a 40-year-old Ohio man who died when working on a running mower in a detached garage. A mower running for an hour can produce as much exhaust as a dozen cars. Carbon monoxide can accumulate when a machine with a fuel-burning engine is running in an enclosed space. Five other victims died when working on their mowers in a garage or shed.

How to Stay Safe Using a Mower

Before you turn on your mower, whether it's a walk-behind or riding model, check your lawn for anything that could become a projectile. That includes rocks, stray toys or sports gear, or fallen branches. And even if it’s hot outside, skip the shorts and flip flops for sturdy closed-toe shoes with good traction and long pants to protect your legs. Keep young children and pets out of the yard while you’re mowing, and never let a child sit on your lap on a riding mower or tractor. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends that children be at least 12 years old before operating a walk-behind mower, and 16 years old before using a riding mower.

When you’re mowing, always remember to:

  • Pay extra attention when you’re mowing on an incline (and refer to the manufacturer's recommendations of how steep an incline you can mow). If you’re on a riding mower, drive it up and down slopes to avoid it tipping over and pinning you underneath. With a walk-behind mower, it’s the opposite: Mow parallel to the slope, not up and down, because it’s easier to control the mower when you're not struggling to push it up an incline.
  • If a stray branch gets in your way while you’re using a walk-behind mower, don’t just bend over and pick it up with the mower running, because you could easily cut your fingers on the mower’s blade. Always release the mower’s bail lever—also referred to as the “deadman” control—so that the blade stops.
  • To avoid slipping, don’t mow the grass when it’s wet. Also, you won't get a good cut with wet grass.
  • When doing maintenance on your mower, always:
  • Wear heavy-duty work gloves when checking or changing your mower’s blades to avoid getting cut.
  • Work on your mower only when it’s turned off—and the engine is cold.
  • Add gas only when you’re outdoors, not inside a garage or shed. And make sure the engine is off and has cooled first.

String Trimmers and Power Clippers

Annual ER visits: 16,900
Deaths: None reported
When you need to neaten up the edges of your lawn, a string trimmer is the best tool for the job. But with its super-fast rotation, the string in a string trimmer can easily cut through your skin or send debris flying, hitting you or someone nearby. No wonder, then, that these and other power clippers cause their fair share of yard work injuries. Though string trimmers and clippers typically cause lacerations, power clippers have been the cause of finger amputations.

You could also suffer from overexertion while using string trimmers and power cutters—from our research, some victims reported shortness of breath or heart problems. A few ER visits were from people who fell while using a trimmer or clipper on a ladder or in a tree.

How to Stay Safe Using a String Trimmer or Power Clipper

Although string trimmers have a shield to deflect debris that might kick up, you’ll still want to wear gloves, protective eyewear, boots, and long pants. All gas models and some electric models can be so loud that you’ll need hearing protection, too. Follow the same precautions for using other kinds of power clippers.

With trimmers especially, always check the areas you plan to trim for any loose items, such as toys, balls, or fallen branches that can be kicked up by the trimmer and hurt you or others. And make sure children, pets, and other bystanders are at least 50 feet away from where you’re working. If someone wanders by, turn off the trimmer.

Other tips to keep you from getting cut, or worse:

  • Never start a gas trimmer in a shed or garage, where carbon monoxide exhaust gas can accumulate—it can be lethal.
  • When you start a gas trimmer with a pull cord, make sure the trimmer is on solid ground to keep it—and yourself—stable.
  • If you’re using a corded electric string trimmer, keep the cord safely out of the way so that you don’t trip over it and fall, losing control of the trimmer. And take care not to accidentally slice the power cord with the trimmer.
  • Use a string trimmer only when you’re standing on the ground so that you don’t lose your balance. And keep the cutting head below your waist for the same reason.
  • Always cut away from yourself to avoid being hit by the weeds or brush you are trying to get rid of.

Provided courtesy of Consumer Reports

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