Yard Safety Tips

Checklist of Yard Safety Tips for Landscaping

Wooden fencing in an non-landscaped yard.
John-Paul Jespersen / Getty Images

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. Besides, what one person regards as an "obvious" danger will catch another quite unawares. When all is said and done, the best tips are those that are broadest in nature, those whose aim is to inform our overall approach with a healthy trepidation.

In other words, your best defense against injury is common sense:

  • Follow directions that come with equipment and other products. This can mean reading the dreaded manual; I sympathize with you!
  • Learn to ask questions. For instance, 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, let's move on to the main purpose of this article: to provide a list of some of the most useful yard safety tips of a more specific nature. Incomplete or not, this list could save you considerable anguish -- so bookmark it and keep it handy!

Yard Safety Tips Involving Water:

  • Don't leave small children unattended around open water features such as garden ponds.
  • Make sure swimming pools are covered when not in use if you have small children.
  • In landscaping around swimming pools, always put safety first.
  • Unless you want to try using Bt or mosquitofish to kill mosquito larvae, I suggest installing a pump in water features. In this age of West Nile virus, it's important to keep the water moving, since mosquito larvae breed in standing water.
  • Installing landscape lighting is advisable in general, but especially around water features, which present a particular danger at night.
  • Roll up garden hoses properly after use so they don't become tripping hazards.

Yard Safety Tips Involving Rock and Cement:

  • Safety Items for Mixing Cement:
  • Gloves
  • Mask
  • Safety glasses (goggles)
  • Safety Items for Moving Heavy Rocks:
  • Gloves
  • Back brace
  • Ball cart

For any work involving digging, check with local utilities first as to the whereabouts of cables, etc. In the U.S., there is now an easy way to check: just ring the "Call Before You Dig" number.

Yard Safety Tips for Using Axes and Hatchets

When wielding an ax or hatchet, as in my project on providing winter protection for shrubs, 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.

    Yard Safety Tips for Using Chain Saws and Hedgers:

    The key to operating chain saws and hedge trimmers safely is to clear obstructions out of the way prior to starting up the engine, maintain your balance and stay focused on what you're doing. Chainsaws, in particular, can be incredibly dangerous devices. The advice given below regarding the use of chain saws should be considered just a beginning in informing yourself about how to operate a chainsaw safely. Seek hands-on guidance from someone in the know.

    • What to Wear
    • Gloves
    • Earplugs
    • Safety glasses
    • Steel-toed boots
    • Tight-fitting clothing (long pants and a long-sleeved shirt)
    • Helmet, when performing chainsaw work on large trees
    • Operating Chain Saws 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 would cause 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.

    After looking at a variety of issues on Page 1, the next two pages focus on the safe use of machinery, to which end I'll be offering heavy equipment safety tips. The dangers posed by 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 Heavy Equipment Safety

    • Make sure no person or pet is standing close to you when operating outdoor power equipment. Communicate to family members that they never should approach you unannounced when you're operating power equipment.
    • Wear tight-fitting clothing (long pants, long-sleeve shirt), goggles, ear protection, and rugged, slip-resistant footwear.
    • 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.

    Heavy Equipment Safety for 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, but this goes  doubly for electrical power 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 with your power equipment.
    • Unplug electric power equipment prior to making any adjustments to it.

      Heavy Equipment Safety for 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, clearly marked, G-A-S.

      Now let's look at safety precautions for some specific power equipment.

      Power Equipment Safety: String Trimmers

      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.
      • The key to operating string trimmers safely is achieving a good form and maintaining it consistently.
      • 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.
      • Likewise, don't use string trimmers (or mowers) when the grass is wet, lest you slip.
      • Fatigue can ruin your form. As you get tired, you tend to get sloppy in your trimming approach. Using a shoulder strap for your trimmer can help cut down on fatigue.
      • 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.
      • The tip of the cutting string should be doing the cutting.
      • A slower, measured swinging motion is safer than a faster, unrestrained motion.
      • Keep the string head below waist level as you swing the trimmer.

      Heavy Equipment Safety: Garden Tillers

      • Have your utility lines marked, so that you'll know where not to dig (in fact, do so even if it's only with a shovel that you're digging). In the U.S., 62 "Call Before You Dig" centers are located around the country. Simply dial 811 on the telephone to reach a local representative, who will initiate the process of having the utility companies mark the lines for you.
      • Never clean dirt off the tines while the machine is running.
      • While small garden tillers aren't too difficult to control, the larger ones can be real beasts! Exercise particular caution if you have to rototill on an incline: many injuries have been incurred from large garden tillers falling onto their operators.

      Heavy Equipment Safety: Snowblowers

      • 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.
      • Along the same lines, 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, be aware that you may have to contend with traffic. Don't turn your back to traffic! You yourself have to take responsibility for your safety. Due to snow drifts, vehicle operators 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:

      1. 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 slope.
      2. 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 for Walk-Behind Mowers

      What makes lawn mower safety for walk-behind mowers less challenging than it used to be is the fact that most machines now possess an important lawn mower 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.

      Lawn Mowers Safety Tips: What to Wear

      • Earplugs
      • Goggles
      • Footwear with good traction
      • Tight-fitting clothing (long pants, a long-sleeve shirt)

      Lawn Mowers Safety Tips: Operating Walk-Behind Mowers

      • 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.
      • As mentioned on Page 2 in connection with string trimmers, mow only when the grass is dry, to reduce the risk of injury through slipping.
      • 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.
      • More Home Safety Tips:
      • Gardening First Aid Tips
      • Chain Saw Safety Tips

      High winds can bring costly damage to your property and pose a risk to your well-being. Here's a list of 10 hurricane safety tips, compiled from the landscaping perspective. Taking note of hurricane safety tips -- and acting in time -- can save you the costs of wind damage to your yard or home. Following hurricane safety tips can also save you the aggravation of having to replace items you take for granted in your yard. While some of these recommendations aren't technically hurricane safety tips, all are still well worth considering.

      Hurricane Safety Tips for Yards: Just Before the Storm

      1. Make sure shed doors are closed tightly: otherwise, they could end up blowing off their hinges and becoming dangerous projectiles.
      2. Bring in flags and awnings.
      3. Hurricane safety tips for your vehicle: don't park cars under trees (especially if you may be in the car when the storm strikes!).
      4. Firmly stake tall garden plants that could snap in high winds.
      5. 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 fall wreath displays.
      6. Check pool covers to ensure that they are secure.
      7. 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.
      8. 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, among the hurricane safety tips you must contemplate is evacuation (remain aware of what local authorities are recommending). In areas of your yard where water is known to pass through, remove any items of value.

      Hurricane Safety Tips for Yards -- Well Before the Storm

      1. On the subject of erosion control and hurricane safety tips, please consult this article on French Drains to learn how to provide your yard with adequate drainage. Of course, the time to do so is not the day before a storm is due to arrive!
      2. Another hurricane safety tip that must be acted on well in advance of storm season is the removal of unstable trees or tree limbs that hang precariously over a home. For more information on hiring tree service professionals to remove such trees or limbs, please consult Hiring Tree Service Professionals. This is one of the more important hurricane safety tips here, since falling trees and limbs pose a hazard to your person, too. Consider hiring a pro if this isn't a job you think you can handle yourself.