It’s That Time of Year

As the days are grow shorter and cooler, there is always a long list of outdoor tasks that need to be tackled before the snow starts to fall. Time to break out the rake, the leaf blower and the chain saw. These jobs aren’t going to take care of themselves.

Common Fall cleanup projects such as raking, pruning, and cleaning gutters can cause muscle strain, back pain, repetitive motion injuries, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, accidents, and other injuries. Statistics show that there are hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits each year due to injuries or accidents caused by doing yard work.

Protecting Your Body

You may have a full arsenal of power tools at your disposable, but you still need to think about how physical these types of tasks really are. It’s easy to get strains, sprains or something worse if you’re not careful.

  • Don’t jump into these jobs without doing some kind of warm-up or stretching. You’re likely working with muscles that you don’t normally use and at an intensity level you’re not used to.
  • Be sure to pace yourself. Spread the workload out over several days or weekends to avoid overdoing it. Also be sure to take regular breaks for fluids, food and rest.
  • Use long-handled tools to keep you from bending while raking or digging. If possible, buy tools with ergonomic and padded handles to avoid strains and blisters.
  • Avoid excessive rotation and reaching while raking and be sure to bend the knees and keep your back straight when putting leaves in a bag or wheelbarrow
  • Switch hands frequently when doing prolonged tasks like raking. Repetitive motion on one side can overload muscles of the low back and shoulders and put unnecessary stress on the spine.
  • When lifting, be sure to keep the loads manageable (don’t be a hero) in order to avoid back injuries. Keep your back straight, lift with your legs, hold objects close to your body and avoid twisting.
  • When weeding, digging or working on low gardens, kneeling or getting down on your hands and knees is better than bending and twisting from the waist

Power Equipment

These items provide the biggest hazard when it comes to immediate and serious injury. Caution is the key at all times.

  • Be sure that your equipment is inspected and maintained regularly to keep it in optimal working order. Fix or replace any broken or missing parts immediately.
  • Never start or run gas-powered equipment in an enclosed area due to the high risk of carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Never attempt to re-fuel machinery when it is hot and always store fuel in approved containers only
  • Keep children and pets away from your work area and do not leave running equipment unattended at any time
  • Do not use power equipment (or any tool for that matter) for anything other than its normal designed function. You’re just asking for trouble.
  • ALWAYS use proper protective gear when working with power equipment. Every job is different, but this could include eye and face protection, hard hats, appropriate gloves, hearing protection and proper footwear. Cut-resistant jackets or pants can also be utilized when using items like chain saws.
  • Do not work with electric power tools in wet or damp conditions. For protection against electrocution, use an outlet with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI).
  • Be sure that extension cords are in good condition, are rated for outdoor use, and are the proper gauge for the electrical current capacity of the tool that you’re using

For the complete power equipment safety article, view the May 2014 At Home edition of SafetyLink

Ladder Safety

Provided you’re not afraid of heights, using a ladder for things like clearing gutters seems pretty straight-forward, right?

  • Always use the right ladder for the job and with safety in-mind. No jury-rigging, tying together, placing the ladder on top of other loose items to gain height etc.
  • Place the feet of the ladder on a level, secure and non-slip surface. Try to avoid wet or windy conditions and have someone hold the base of the ladder if there is any concern about stability.
  • When moving a ladder, be sure to watch for overhead power lines
  • The base of a leaning ladder should extend out one meter for every 4 meters of height (4:1 ratio) to provide the safest angle
  • Straight and extension ladders should extend 1 meter beyond the top support structure with both side rails resting securely for optimal stability
  • Keep the centre of your body within the side rails and work within easy arm’s reach. If you find that you need to lean out dangerously, it’s a better plan to climb down and move the ladder over.
  • Don’t climb or place your feet higher than the third rung from the top. This allows you to grasp the ladder at waist height while working.
  • Always face the ladder when climbing or working on it. Maintain 3 points of contact at all times.

For the complete ladder safety article, view the August 2014 At Work edition of SafetyLink

Other Potential Risks

Here are a few more things to consider when it comes to autumn yard care safety.

  • If you burn leaves or brush on your property, be sure to get a local permit and follow the regulations exactly. Aside from being dangerous, you can incur huge fines if you don’t follow the rules. These would include the size of the fire, distance from trees, buildings and fences, wind speed, and having a water supply readily available.
  • If you apply pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers to your lawn or plants, you should definitely follow these general safety guidelines:
    • Always read and carefully follow the instructions for storage, use and first aid
    • Keep children and pets away from the application area
    • Protect your skin, eyes and breathing when handling these types of materials
    • Use the proper amount as prescribed. ‘More’ is not better when using lawn chemicals.
  • If you’re planning on digging for any reason, be sure to check with your local utility companies to determine the location of underground cables or pipes
  • Trimming trees is often done in autumn once the leaves fall. You get a better idea of what you’re dealing with that way.
    • Use a pruner with an extended handle to reach higher branches, rather than attempting to do this on a ladder (or by climbing the tree itself)
    • Be highly aware of which direction your cut branches are falling. Using a hard hat and goggles or a face shield is also a good plan.
    • Check to see if there are any branches or trees that may be an issue if they fell during a winter storm. If they are near power lines or are too big to reasonably handle yourself, be sure to call a professional.
  • Wet leaves are very slippery (think banana peel). Make sure to wear boots or shoes with soles that are slip resistant.
  • Before starting an outdoor project, remove objects from your work area that could cause injury or damage, such as sticks, glass or stones etc.
  • If you suffer from allergies, consider wearing a dust mask to filter out mold spores, pollen and other potential allergens

Most all of the accidents or injuries associated with yard work can easily be prevented. It just takes a small amount of common sense and caution to stay safe.

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