A list of yard safety tips can never be complete. No one can warn us against unforeseeable circumstances, nor are even the most cautious of us immune to Murphy's Law. Your best defense is common sense, yet what one person regards as an "obvious" danger will catch another quite unawares. But, generally:
- Follow directions for use that come with equipment, herbicides, etc.
- Learn to ask questions. When you buy something at the hardware store, ask the salesperson for specific safety tips regarding the use of the product.
- Assess the danger potential of an action before you take it because it's better to be safe than sorry.
- Don't be in a big hurry! It's better not to get your yard chores done than to risk injury.
- Even if the task at hand is something as ho-hum as snow shoveling, your first step should be to stretch your muscles.
With the broadest of yard safety tips out of the way, it's time to look at specific chores and specific areas of the yard that can be dangerous.
Yard Safety Tips Involving Water:
- Don't leave small children unattended around open water features such as garden ponds.
- Installing a fence and making sure pools are covered when not in use (just in case kids should get past the fence) are part of proper landscaping around swimming pools.
- Install a pump in water features to keep water moving. Mosquito larvae breed in standing water. You can also use Bt or mosquitofish to kill mosquito larvae.
- Install landscape lighting wherever people will be walking at night, but especially around water features.
- Roll up garden hoses after use so they don't become tripping hazards.
Items to Wear/Use When Working With Rock and Concrete:
- Heavy work gloves
- Face mask
- Safety glasses
- Back brace
- Ball cart (to transport material)
Using Axes and Hatchets
When wielding an ax or hatchet, as when trimming brush or building shelters to protect shrubs in winter, keep these yard safety tips in mind:
- Wear steel-toed boots, heavy gloves, tight-fitting clothing (long pants and a long-sleeved shirt), and safety glasses.
- Make sure the blade is sharp. Ironically, dull blades make staying safe around these tools more difficult than do sharp blades.
- Chop so that the arc of your swing won't end up coming back in the direction of your body.
- As with chainsaws, it's best not to use axes and hatchets until someone well-versed in their use has personally instructed you.
Using Chainsaws and Hedgers
One key to operating chainsaws and hedge trimmers safely is to clear obstructions out of the way prior to starting up the engine. You also must maintain your balance and stay focused on what you're doing. Seek hands-on guidance from someone in the know before operating chainsaws, which are particularly dangerous.
Wear the following:
- Heavy work gloves
- Safety glasses
- Helmet (when performing chainsaw work on large trees)
- Tight-fitting clothing (long pants, long-sleeve shirt)
- Rugged, slip-resistant, steel-toed boots
Here are some basic tips for operating chainsaws and hedgers safely:
- Plant both feet firmly on the ground when cutting.
- Avoid making cuts while standing on a ladder: Leave the aerial acrobatics to tree services.
- Be aware of your center of gravity: Don't overreach.
- You shouldn't be raising the machine up above shoulder level; doing so causes instability.
- Shut off the engine prior to removing branches stuck in the teeth of your machine.
- With chainsaws, always be conscious of the possibility of kickback.
Heavy Equipment Safety
The dangers posed by heavy machinery are considerable. Whereas you can prevent getting dust in your face while using leaf blowers simply by wearing a mask and goggles, much more serious injuries can be incurred while operating powerful machinery, such as rototillers and snowblowers. General reminders include:
- Make sure no person or pet is standing close to you while operating the equipment. Communicate to family members that they never should approach you unannounced when you're operating power equipment.
- If you have long hair, tie it back.
- When you have to unclog the discharge chute of power equipment, stop the engine and use a stick to remove the debris, not your hands.
- Don't let your body come into contact with any part of power equipment that gets hot.
- Don't leave power equipment running unattended.
Using Electrical Devices:
- Make sure the ON/OFF switch is in the OFF position before plugging the device into an outlet.
- You shouldn't use any power equipment under wet conditions, especially electrical equipment.
- Don't take extension cords for granted. Old, nicked-up extension cords should be replaced. Make sure extension cords are the right size for the device's electric current capacity.
- Be conscious of the whereabouts of the cords at all times, so that you don't trip over them or sever them.
- Unplug the equipment prior to making any adjustments to it.
Using Gas-Powered Devices:
- Disconnect the spark plug wires prior to making any adjustments, as when you tune up lawn mowers.
- Don't refill a gas tank while the device is running or when the engine is still hot, and wipe up any spillage.
- Don't leave gas-powered machines running in an enclosed area.
- Store gas in a proper container and clearly mark it.
Now let's look at safety precautions for some specific power equipment.
String Trimmer Safety Tips
While not heavy equipment, you need to respect the damage that string trimmers are capable of causing:
- Prior to start-up, check for any damage caused by past usage, fasteners loosened through vibration, or fuel leakage.
- Don't use string trimmers (or mowers) when the grass is wet (you could slip).
- A slower, measured swinging motion is safer than a faster, unrestrained motion.
- Keep the string head below waist level as you swing the trimmer.
- It's easier to operate string trimmers with the proper form if you stay balanced in your footwork. Don't over-extend your arms, which could cause you to lose your balance. Get into a rhythm and maintain it.
- Swing the trimmer in such a way that the arc of your swing won't end up bringing the rotating string head back in the direction of your body. Maintain the cutting head at an angle of about thirty degrees to the ground.
- Fatigue can ruin your form. As you get tired, you tend to get sloppy in your trimming approach. Using a shoulder strap helps cut down on fatigue.
- The tip of the cutting string should be doing the cutting.
Garden Tiller Safety Tips:
- Never clean dirt off the tines while the machine is running.
- Small garden tillers are the easiest to control; larger ones can be dangerous. Exercise particular caution if you have to rototill on an incline: Many injuries have been incurred from large garden tillers falling onto their operators.
Snowblower Safety Tips:
- Whether you prefer electric snowblowers or gas snowblowers, be aware that these are dangerous machines to operate. A snowblower is designed to pick up snow and throw it. You don't want it trying to throw small objects (sticks, stones, bottles, etc.) that happen to be embedded in that snow. So when snow blowing, stick to pavement or well-maintained gravel surfaces that you know don't hold any surprises.
- Make sure you know the territory well enough to be aware of any stumps, curbs, etc. so that you can avoid them.
- When snow blowing on an incline, you should be clearing up and down the incline, not across it.
- When snow blowing at the street-end of your driveway, don't turn your back to traffic. Due to snow drifts, drivers may not be able to see you. Drivers may also lose control on icy roads.
The lawn mower safety tips below are for walk-behind mowers. But a couple of tips first about riding mowers, which present their own unique safety challenges:
- Riding mowers are unstable on steep inclines. So unlike with walk-behind mowers, with which you cut across an incline, with riding mowers you mow up and down the slope.
- Treat the operation of a riding mower as seriously as you would the operation of an automobile. Consequently, no kids (not even as passengers) allowed!
Lawn Mower Safety Tips
What makes lawn mower safety less challenging than it used to be is the fact that most machines now possess an important safety feature: a lever or control bar mounted on the handle. This safety feature can work in either of two ways. On cheaper models, releasing the lever or control bar brings both the engine and the cutting blade to a stop. More expensive models provide greater convenience: Only the blade stops, so you don't have to bother starting up the engine again when you're ready to continue. To dress safely for mowing, wear the same items you would as when using a chainsaw (except the helmet won't be necessary).
Basic tips include:
- Check the lawn first for objects that shouldn't be there: bottles, stones, etc. Exercise similar caution when using lawn edgers. Propelled objects cause many lawn mower-related injuries.
- Check that lawn mower guards and shields are functional.
- Set wheel height prior to starting the engine.
- If you're using a bag attachment, turn the lawn mower off prior to removing or re-attaching the bag. Better yet, when using mulching mowers, there's really no need to use a bag at all.
- In summer, mow in the evening for the sake of your grass but, for your own sake, early enough that there's still plenty of light by which to see.
- Very steep slopes are dangerous to mow. Consider an alternative to grass in these cases, such as growing ground covers like Blue Rug juniper.
- If you're truly concerned about lawn mower safety, the best lawn mowers to use are reel mowers, because they're human-powered. But reel mowers may not be a viable option for those with large yards.
Hurricane Safety Tips
High winds can bring costly damage to your property and pose a risk to your well-being. Being prepared can save you the costs of wind damage to your home and the aggravation of having to replace items you take for granted in your yard.
Just before the storm:
- Make sure shed doors are closed tightly. Otherwise, they could end up blowing off their hinges and becoming dangerous projectiles.
- Bring in flags and awnings.
- Don't park cars under trees (especially if you may be in the car when the storm strikes).
- Firmly stake tall garden plants that could snap in high winds.
- Store lawn ornaments away, such as gazing balls. Not only is it a matter of saving the ornaments, but they can become dangerous projectiles in a storm.
- Remove house ornaments that are not secure, such as wreaths.
- Make sure pool covers are secure.
- Harvest any fragile items in the garden that are mature enough to be picked, including flowers to be used for cut flower arrangements. There's no point in letting the storm wreck them.
- Remember that storms sometimes bring flooding in their wake, and that means potential erosion problems. If you live on a steep slope or close to a body of water, monitor possible evacuation announcements from local authorities. In areas of your yard where water is known to pass through, remove any items of value.
Well before the storm:
- Build a French drain to improve yard drainage.
- Hire a tree service to remove unstable trees or tree limbs hanging over your home.