How To Guard Against Cuts and Amputations

Don't stick your hands in a chipper, carry a chainsaw by the guard bar, and a few other things you maybe DIDN'T know

Members of hardscape crews must ensure that safeguards are in place and functional on all cutting equipment.
Members of hardscape crews must ensure that safeguards are in place and functional on all cutting equipment.

Landscaping workers do not have easy jobs. They bend, twist, climb and lift—often in extreme heat. They operate powerful equipment designed to dig, slice, smash and cut. Jobsites are noisy, dirty and rife with opportunity for mishap—if you are not careful.

As the leader of your own landscaping team, part of your responsibility is to ensure that both you and your crewmates are working in a safe and effective manner. You're likely under pressure to be as efficient as possible these days. But that doesn’t mean efficiency should come at the expense of being safe. Your employer will always tell you that safety comes first.

Here's a list of common hazards on landscaping jobsites, as pointed out by OSHA:

  • Cuts and amputations
  • Hand injuries
  • Electrical, i.e. underground and/or overhead power lines
  • Heat/cold stress
  • Lifting
  • Motor vehicles, i.e. unsafe backing, texting while driving, etc.
  • Noise
  • Pesticides/chemicals
  • Slips, trips and falls

Three Facets of Safety

Proper operation. Avoiding some of the above mentioned jobsite hazards, to a degree, comes down to awareness. Many injuries, including cuts and amputations, are the result of operator error. Sometimes it's a lack of proper training. But many times it's a matter of unsafe, careless equipment operation.

If you have an employee who needs more training on a piece of equipment, alert your supervisor in order to get some extra training time set up. If you have an employee who operates equipment carelessly, pull him aside and tell him what you've observed, and explain how what he's doing is wrong. Also assert that future behavior like this could result in disciplinary action. The goal is not to embarrass the employee. Rather, you want to correct his behavior so that safety is first and foremost in his mind.

There are some basic rules of thumb to reiterate with your crewmates with respect to guarding against cuts and amputations. Always keep hands and feet away from moving blades on mowers, tillers, hedgetrimmers, chainsaws, etc. Some landscape workers are in a hurry to quickly unclog a mower deck, for instance. Never do that before shutting down the engine and ensuring that the blades and other parts have stopped moving. Likewise, never fidget with trimmer line unless the trimmer is completely shut down.

Make sure you maintain a sturdy footing when operating equipment like trimmers, chainsaws and pole pruners. Always maintain a solid two-handed grip with all handheld equipment. Avoid over-reaching, which can cause you to lose your balance. Never climb on ladders or other structures. With hedgetrimmers and chainsaws, avoid lifting them higher than chest/shoulder height when cutting.

Take care to avoid inadvertently engaging the blades or trimmer line on a piece of equipment when carrying it. Keep your fingers away from the trigger, or better yet, shut the engine down completely.

Make sure the work area is safe. Inspect for things like rocks and sticks, broken glass, etc. which can become airborne missiles when coming into contact with a mower, trimmer or edger. Look for in-ground obstructions like sprinkler heads. Make sure your crewmates understand to look for these things as well. Finally, maintain a safe working zone. Nobody should come within 50 feet of someone who is operating lawn equipment. If someone enters a safety zone, the equipment should be shut down.

Safety gear all the time. As crew chief, you want to make sure your crewmates are wearing the proper safety gear. First ensure that everybody on your crew has what is needed before heading out in the truck each morning. Then you must also make sure that everybody is wearing their gear while on the job. If you catch somebody who is not wearing it, take him aside and explain the importance of wearing his protective gear at all times.

With respect to guarding against cuts and amputations, essential safety gear includes:

  • Safety glasses
  • Non-slip gloves
  • Proper work boots, perhaps steel-toed
  • Long pants

Other safety items that may become necessary include:

  • Chaps if operating a chainsaw
  • Face shields when operating chainsaws, concrete saws, pole saws and chipper shredders
  • Hard hats when operating pole saws or when on construction sites where potential for falling objects exists

Additionally, think about the other items you are wearing. As a general rule, loose is bad. Loose-fitting shirts, jackets and pants are more likely to become entangled with equipment. Also, loose jewelry and even longer, free-flowing hair can create additional hazards. So make sure your clothes fit snugly, tie your hair back if necessary, and leave the jewelry at home.

Equipment condition. All types of lawn equipment have safety mechanisms built into them. You can help ensure that all safety mechanisms—such as guards on string trimmers and discharge chutes on mowers—are in safe working order.

Far too many landscape crews disable these types of mechanisms, or just ignore them when they are in poor condition. Never disable these safety mechanisms. And if you notice that a piece of equipment is in poor condition, note it and report it to your supervisor back at the shop.

You should thoroughly inspect each piece of equipment going onto your truck before you ever leave the yard in the morning. And if you hear or see something unusual with a piece of equipment while it is being operated on a jobsite, step in an examine it—and pull it off of the job if you feel that is necessary. Finally, remind your crews to pay attention to the sound, appearance and performance of the equipment they are operating—and to tell you if anything seems out of the ordinary.

There is a lot of emphasis on field efficiency these days. But nothing is less efficient and costly for landscape company owners than losing an employee to an injury. At the same time, nothing is more important than the safety of you and your crewmates. Make it your mission to help secure your safety each and every day.