Lawn Mowing and Ground Maintenance in the Workplace
Last year while conducting a facility safety audit for a manufacturing and warehousing operation, we entered a little-used maintenance and storage room and noticed an old riding lawn mower and two trimmers stored there for the winter. We inquired as to why they were there and if they are used by any employees. Our client was a little confused as to why we were taking such an interest, but begrudgingly began to explain. We learned that during the summer whenever there is down time, employees who normally do production or warehousing work are asked to take care of the facility’s grounds. We also learned these employees, while not forced to do lawn work, are not provided training or any instruction on the use, limitations, and hazards of the equipment being used. The business owner’s assumption was that the workers should know how to use this equipment because most of them use it at home.
OSHA’s Policy on Lawn and Landscaping Equipment
OSHA views this activity like any other work activity and says employers are responsible for providing workers with proper training, safe equipment, and the necessary personal protective equipment before they can operate any lawn-mowing or trimming equipment. Proper training ensures that each operator is competent to operate the equipment safely. This training must also be provided in a language and vocabulary that workers can understand. It should include information on the safe operation of specific mowers and equipment the workers will use. These topics include:
- A review of all safety devices to ensure that ROPS (Roll Over Protective System), guards, seat belts, and shields are securely in place and properly used.
- The importance of surveying the terrain for hazards prior to mowing.
- How to identify obstacles in the mowing path, such as large rocks, man-made hazards such as signs and trash receptacles, tree stumps, soft or wet spots, and the areas where the use of riding mowers is prohibited.
- Reading and understanding the operations, maintenance, limitations, and warning sections of the equipment manual.
- Speed control, steering, and maneuvering.
- A review of stability and roll-over hazards.
- Employees should also be trained to:
- Use all required personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times: hearing and head protection, safety glasses, work boots, etc. Avoid wearing jewelry and loose-fitting clothing that can easily become entangled with moving parts.
- Never carry passengers. Riding mowers are one-person machines.
- Always start the mower from the driver’s seat. Never start the machine while standing beside it. Keep both feet on the machine at all times while it is running.
- Never place the mower in motion until the operator is ready. Putting the mower in gear unintentionally could make it jerk forward without warning.
- Never mount or dismount a mower while it is running, as there may be enough space for an operator’s toes to pass under the mower housing and be struck by the blade. Perform proper shutdown procedures before dismounting.
- Never stop or start a riding mower suddenly when it is going uphill or downhill. Avoid all sudden starts, stops, or turns.
OSHA also believes retraining and evaluation are necessary to ensure that workers maintain their competency to operate a riding mower safely. Provide refresher training to workers when:
- An operator has been observed operating a mower in an unsafe manner.
- An operator has suffered an injury or been involved in a near-miss incident.
- An operator receives a new job assignment that includes operating a mower or machinery with which the operator is unfamiliar.
- An operator receives a new job assignment that includes mowing on terrain or surfaces that present hazards unfamiliar to the operator.
Each year, 75 people are killed, and 20,000 injured from lawn mower-related activities. And remember, Federal child labor laws prohibit children under the age of 16 from operating lawn mowers, lawn trimmers, and weed cutters.
Maybe this resource can help get you started on developing a lawn care safety program: https://www.osha.gov/dte/grant_materials/fy09/sh-19503-09/mowing-trimming_safety_manual.pdf