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Groundskeeping Safety

Groundskeeping Safety

In Virginia, much of the year is dedicated to the task of daily groundskeeping. The equipment, site conditions and weather can make these tasks very dangerous. It is important that the employees responsible for groundskeeping stay alert and be prepared for the unexpected. The following safety tips may help avoid accidents and injuries to employees.

Personal Protective Equipment

Before any groundskeeping activities can start, a qualified person, familiar with OSHA requirements, needs to assess the tasks to be performed and choose the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) to be used for each activity. Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Properly fitting, long- or short-sleeved shirts and long pants are best to prevent injury from the sun as well as scratches and bites.
  • High-top, lace-up shoes and boots with traction soles and steel-reinforced toes provide support and protection to the workers’ toes, feet and ankles.
  • Face shields or goggles protect eyes from dust and flying particles.
  • Wraparound sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control as a means of reducing the risk of cataracts from sun exposure. Most sunglasses sold in the United States provide this protection.
  • Appropriate hearing protection devices (ear muffs, ear plugs) provide protection from noise produced by equipment.
  • Proper respiratory protection may be necessary in extremely dusty conditions.
  • Appropriate head protection is indicated when working under low branches or where there may be a hazard from falling objects.
  • Gloves should be selected based upon the task to be performed. Various glove styles provide hand protection from hazards such as cuts, scrapes, chemical / thermal burns and vibrating equipment.

Remember, this is not an all-inclusive list of the PPE that may be required. Evaluate the task at hand to determine what is needed.

General Safety Tips

  • Read the owner’s manual to become familiar with the controls and how to use the equipment safely. Know how to disengage and stop the equipment quickly in the event of an emergency.
  • Check over the equipment carefully for loose, broken or damaged parts. Repair or replace the equipment prior to use.
  • Wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for the equipment being operated.
  • Never allow inexperienced workers to operate equipment without proper training and instruction. Be certain operators are physically and mentally capable of using the machine.
  • Educate employees on the hazards associated with operating equipment while on medications that can impair judgment.
  • Electrically operated equipment must be properly grounded or double insulated. Always use a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI).
  • The work area should be carefully surveyed for potential hazards. Make certain children; animals and bystanders move a safe distance away. Remove sticks, bottles, hidden wires, posts and other debris that could be thrown by the equipment.
  • Never allow employees to operate gasoline- or diesel-powered equipment inside a building. This will prevent deadly carbon monoxide buildup.
  • Ensure employees rest periodically during strenuous jobs such as digging or sawing: work-rest schedules vary according to temperature conditions, how strenuous the work is, and how acclimated employees are to the workload.
  • Make sure emergency telephone numbers are clearly posted and that first aid kits are available and employees know how to use the contents.

Groundskeepers use various pieces of equipment while performing their job tasks. Each piece of equipment has unique hazards. Here are a few safety tips to share with your employees:

Blower Safety

  • Start and run the equipment in an upright position.
  • Operate the blower with tubing attached.
  • Direct the discharge of debris away from people, animals, glass and solid objects that could cause material to ricochet.
  • Blowers should not be used from ladders, trees, rooftops or other unstable surfaces.
  • Blowers should not be used for spreading or misting chemicals, fertilizers or other toxic substances.

Chainsaw Safety

  • Keep the chain sharpened to specifications.
  • Never drop-start the chainsaw.
  • Avoid kickback by keeping the saw’s guide bar nose away from logs, branches or the ground.
  • Maintain balance during use by locking the elbows and spreading the feet apart – while keeping the blade off to the side.
  • Avoid cutting anything above shoulder level.

Edger Safety

  • Be sure the blade is disengaged before starting the engine.
  • Hold the edger with both hands in a comfortable, well-balanced stance.
  • Keep hands and feet well clear of the cutter blade.
  • Watch the discharge direction carefully. Direct it away from people, animals, children, windows, etc. Be alert for situations that could cause ricochets.
  • Disengage and stop the engine before adjusting or repairing. Unplug electric models. Wait for all parts to stop moving.

Hedge Trimmers (Power Shears) Safety

  • Select a trimmer with the cutting teeth and guards close enough together so that fingers cannot fit between them.
  • Select a trimmer that has two handles, including a wide forward handle high above the cutting blade.
  • Select a trimmer that is lightweight and easy to handle.
  • Do not operate the trimmer above chest height.
  • Keep hands and body away from the blades.
  • Keep the cord of electric models away from the trimmer to avoid damage or cuts to the cord.
  • Work slowly and deliberately. Plan cuts before they are made.
  • Stop the engine or unplug electric models before cleaning or adjusting.

Push Mower

  • Do not push a running mower over gravel, stone or hard objects such as pipes, rocks or sidewalks.
  • Push the mower forward; do not pull.
  • Mow across slopes. If slipping does occur, feet will be less likely to get caught in the blade.
  • Keep hands and feet clear of the blade housing and the discharge chute.
  • Do not run with push-powered mowers.
  • Be sure all safety devices are in position and working – rear shield, grass chute deflector, handle upstops and “deadman” control.
  • Be sure grass is dry before cutting, to prevent the operator from slipping.
  • Disconnect the spark plug wire before attempting to service, adjust or repair the mower.

Riding Mower Safety

  • Make sure the riding mower is equipped with a working engine interlock and a “deadman” control.
  • Be sure the mower and transmission are disengaged before starting the engine.
  • Drive the mower up and down gentle slopes for stability. Back up moderate slopes. Avoid steep slopes completely.
  • Turn off the engine and wait for moving parts to stop before dismounting. Remove key.
  • Slow down when turning sharply and on slopes to avoid tipping.
  • Keep the discharge chute pointed away from buildings, people and animals.
  • Keep hands and feet away from all moving parts.
  • Disconnect the spark plug wire and remove the ignition/starter key before attempting to service, adjust or repair the mower.

Tractor-Mower Safety

  • Make sure the tractor is equipped with a roll-over protective structure (ROPS) and seat belt. If not, have it retrofitted.
  • Only trained and experienced employees should operate a tractor-mower.
  • Inspect the tractor prior to use and make sure all safety guards and features are in place.
  • Check overhead clearance of electrical wires and other obstructions.
  • When driving on public roads, be sure the slow moving vehicle (SMV) emblem is in place.
  • Mow up and down slopes with rear-mount, pull-type, and wing-type mowers.
  • Mow across slopes with side-mount, offset and sicklebar mowers.

This list is by no means all-inclusive. Please read the manufacturer’s operating manual before using any piece of equipment.

Fueling Safety Today, much of the equipment that groundskeepers use is gas- or diesel-powered. The following safety precautions may reduce the risk of accident to employees while fueling equipment:

  • Fuel tanks should be filled out of doors over bare ground with a cool engine.
  • Fuel caps should be removed slowly and held at the semi-locked position until pressure is released from the fuel tank.
  • Portable power equipment should be moved at least 10 feet from the fueling spot before turning on the equipment.
  • Do not allow smoking while handling fuel.
  • Store fuel in approved flash-proof safety cans.
  • Have fire extinguishers and other firefighting equipment nearby.
  • Ensure that spills are immediately cleaned up.

Chemical Safety

Groundskeepers also work with a variety of lawn chemicals. These chemicals have a variety of hazardous properties. It is important that all containers are labeled properly and that material safety data sheets (MSDSs) are available. If chemicals must be transferred from the original container to another, make sure the secondary container is labeled properly. Proper PPE is crucial when working with lawn chemicals to avoid unnecessary exposure. Remember that employees can carry these hazardous chemicals home on their clothes. Have employees bring an extra change of clothes and remind them to wash their contaminated clothes separately. These simple steps can prevent a chemical exposure to your employee.

The daily tasks encountered by groundskeepers are dangerous. Give your employees the tool of knowledge to help them combat these dangers and avoid injury.

References and Resources:

Check out these videos from the Office of Workers’ Compensation Video Resource Library: 1. Cutting It Short – Part I 2. Cutting It Short – Part II 3. Groundskeeping Safety – Be a Pro 4. Groundskeeping Safety – Dealing with Bugs & Critters 5. Handling the Heat 6. Lyme Disease 7. Outdoor Safety – Critters and Plants 8. Safety 101 – Heat Stress: Don’t Lose Your Cool

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