Taming The Great Outdoors

With the arrival of nicer weather, thoughts turn to outdoor projects and getting your property in-shape for the summer season. It’s nice to get outside after a long winter to take care of lawns, shrubs and trees, but a little caution needs to be applied in order to avoid any nasty mishaps.

Statistics show that there are hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits each year due to injuries sustained from working with power equipment outdoors. From lawnmowers, trimmers and leaf blowers, to tillers, chainsaws and wood chippers, safety should always be a priority. You may have a green thumb when it comes to gardening, but you sure don’t want to lose it in an accident with your tools.

Some Engine Basics

Electric, gas or diesel, basically everything we’re talking about here has some form of engine. Big or small, a lot of common principles apply.

  • Be sure to read the instruction manual for any piece of equipment you use. Get completely familiar with it and don’t make any assumptions as to how it operates and what the safety features may be.
  • Keep all of your equipment in top shape by maintaining and storing it properly. Make sure that all parts are tight, belts and chains are at the proper tension and that everything is lubricated to spec. Always have equipment serviced by a qualified technician.
  • Check equipment throughout the season for frayed cords, worn or loose parts, fluid leaks and cracked casings
  • Keep all safety guards on equipment in-place. They were put there for a reason.
  • Start your tools outdoors and never in an enclosed garage, shed or basement, as there will always be a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Always start power tools well away from fuel sources
  • Be sure to use an approved container for fuel storage and transportation
  • Never attempt to re-fuel any equipment if it is still running or if the engine is hot. Always use a funnel to avoid spills onto potentially hot engine parts.
  • Never leave running power equipment unattended
  • For electric tools, ensure that the cord you use is rated for outdoor use and has a ground pin (3 prong type). Ideally, you should be using an outlet with a ground fault circuit interrupter to help avoid any electric shocks. If you notice the cord itself getting hot, replace it with one that is heavier gauge.

Do’s & Don’ts

When using power equipment, let common sense be your guide. If it seems like a bad idea at the time – it probably is. Also, if you scope-out a particular project and it looks like you don’t have the proper gear or experience, you should definitely call a professional. Taking risks just isn’t worth it.

  • Never allow children to operate your power equipment. Even supervised, bad things can happen.
  • Don’t operate equipment if you’re unfamiliar with it or uncomfortable with its use. Don’t take a chance.
  • Never use a piece of equipment for anything other than its original design. All bets are off if you do.
  • Do make sure that you have enough time to finish your job. Don’t rush or work when you’re fatigued. That’s when accidents can happen.
  • Never use power equipment if you are intoxicated or are using strong medication
  • Be sure to work with a partner when using high-risk tools such as chain saws
  • Maintain an appropriate ‘safety zone’ around your work area, where no one can enter without a direct acknowledgement from you
  • Shut off your tools when moving from one location to another
  • Try to avoid working in overly wet or windy conditions
  • Always keep hands and feet clear of moving machine parts and blades. Sounds like a simple rule, but you’d be surprised.
  • Never clear a jam or obstruction on equipment that is running. Even when turned off, use a stick or other piece if wood rather than your hands.
  • Be sure to remove any clutter from your work area and ensure that your footing is stable
  • When cutting the lawn, always do a visual sweep to be sure that there aren’t any toys, tools or anything else hiding in the grass.
  • When using items like chainsaws or trimmers, keep the tool below shoulder height, never use just one hand to operate and never stand on a ladder or anything other than firm ground.

Personal Protection

So now that you have the power tool part figured out, it’s time to take your personal protective equipment into consideration. When the weather is nice and you’re working at home, the tendency can be to be pretty loose with what you’re wearing. The problem is, this is where most injuries occur.

  • For most any job, a good pair of gloves is essential. Make sure that the type you’re using is appropriate for the job. For instance, a thin pair of gardening gloves wouldn’t be right when you’re operating a chain saw.
  • Always wear a good-quality pair of safety glasses or goggles with a high impact rating. Pretty much everything you do with power equipment presents some risk of flying debris.
  • Use hearing protection where appropriate. You might not need it for a quiet, electric hedge trimmer, but definitely for a leaf blower or a lawn mower. Earmuffs or plugs will do.
  • Full-face shields are a good choice when using equipment that creates debris moving at high speeds. Add a hard hat if working with any risk of falling overhead material.
  • Rate the amount and type of clothing you’ll need to wear depending on the task at-hand. Long pants are normally a must, but you may want to have your arms covered as well. Protective jackets or chaps are also a good option when using high-risk machinery.
  • Work boots – yes. Flip-flops – no. Your footwear should provide stability, traction and protection from cuts, punctures and falling objects.
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