Safety with small tractors, riding mowers begins before you mow the grass
As spring temperatures encourage grass to grow, many people will be mowing lawns with lawn and garden tractors or riding mowers. Spending a few moments to check safety aspects can keep you and bystanders from harm.
Safe lawn and garden tractor operation begins before you start the equipment. "Reports of garden tractors injuring their operators have been rising," says James Garthe, agricultural engineer in agricultural and biological engineering at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. "Overturns and other types of incidents often stem from poor preparation."
Check the turf. "Remove any debris that may be thrown from under the mower deck," Garthe says. "Sticks, rocks or children's toys can be expelled at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour. Check for hidden obstacles in the grass to prevent serious injury to bystanders. Small gravel not only chips paint on cars, but also cause eye injuries."
No riders. An extra rider on the operator's lap or carried on a tractor fender or hood is an accident waiting to happen. "Lawn and garden tractors have a seat for one person only," says Garthe. "An extra rider often distracts the operator, causing the tractor to swerve or tip. Riders seeking to maintain balance may grab for the steering wheel or operator, making the situation worse."
Inspection. A careful tractor inspection before mowing is important. "For instance, underinflated tires affect the steering and handling of the machine," Garthe says.
Adjustments. "Make sure the mower deck is at the right height," Garthe advises. "An improperly adjusted mower deck will gouge your turf and make mowing unsafe.
Use correct parts. Loose bolts and bent blades are frequent hazards. "Using incorrect mower blades is a common mistake and can result in damage to the underside of the deck," says Garthe. Blade tips should be about 1/4 inch above the lowermost edge of the mower deck.
"Fingertip and toe amputations are fairly common when people install a blade that projects beyond the deck," he adds.
Safe refueling. Never attempt to refuel an engine just after it has been shut off. Liquid gasoline cannot ignite, but gasoline vapors do. "Gasoline vapors always are present, especially when the liquid is rapidly heated," Garthe explains. "When the liquid is spilled over a hot muffler, vapors rapidly waft into areas that are just right for a fire. Always allow at least five minutes for the engine to cool before filling the tank, and never refuel inside a closed building where fuel vapors can accumulate.
"Many garden tractors, especially older models, have batteries close to the fuel tank," Garthe says. "Metal funnels and fuel cans should not contact battery terminals not only because of gasoline vapors, but also because explosive hydrogen gas is generated from active batteries."
Discharge chute plugging. The underside of a mower deck often is the most neglected part of lawn care machinery. Scrape off compacted grass after each mowing. When grass accumulates on the underside of the deck, airflow is altered, and the mower will not discharge cut grass properly. "Unclogging a discharge chute while the blade is spinning is extremely dangerous," Garthe says.
Garthe offers these mowing guidelines for lawn and garden tractor operators:
- Disconnect spark plug wires before cleaning the mower deck.
- Wear protective shoes and clothing, including ear and eye protection.
- Avoid mowing wet grass that will clog the mower's discharge chute.
- Keep bystanders -- including children and pets -- at a safe distance.
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