Doing yard work safely

  • Published
  • By 72nd Air Base Wing
  • Safety Office
How many times have you been cutting your grass when you heard, and felt, the loud bass rumble from someone blasting their car radio while driving through your neighborhood?

Besides the noise pollution and general nuisance of having to hear someone else's music disturbing your yard work ... let's face it, if you gotta play it that loud, how good could the music be? What kind of hearing damage must those decibels be doing to the people in the car?

Well, one thing is sure, the people driving and riding in cars that blast music have probably been taught better, but that obviously doesn't mean they will always do better. If only the people in those cars could look into their future and see the damage they're causing themselves, then you could bet they'd turn down that radio.

After all, none of us would ever put our hearing at risk like that, would we? Of course not, we'd never knowingly expose ourselves to dangerous sound levels especially since everyone knows that once you lose hearing sensitivity, it rarely ever returns. What person in their right mind would do such harm to themselves? It just doesn't make sense. So, you return to mowing your lawn after re-tying your tennis shoe laces, tightening the belt on your jean shorts and wiping the sweat from your $10 sunglasses. As the car turns the corner, you may even think to yourself, "Someone should say something to those people before it's too late."

If you're lucky, cars don't routinely blast their music down the street you live on (and if they do, hopefully you aren't the culprit!). But if you mow your own lawn, do you know what dangers you face? It's easier to notice the noise hazard from the car's stereo blaring as it drove down the street, but what about the noise from a lawn mower's engine? Riding above or walking a few feet behind a running engine for as long as it takes to mow your yard each week takes a toll on a person's hearing. Maybe it's just my deluxe, air-cooled, fuel-injected combination weed eater, edger, blower, tiller and trimmer, but I swear it runs at the perfect frequency and volume to rattle my teeth. Plus, to use it properly, I have to hold it at an angle so the engine exhaust is about a foot away from my ears. If you ever get a residual ringing in your ears after using power tools or equipment, then you may understand what I mean.

What other dangers did you notice? Now that you're thinking about it, most of the dangers are probably a little more obvious. Operating a lawn mower while wearing tennis shoes or open-toed footwear is an all too common risk people knowingly accept when doing yard work. Sure, the people who do it tend to get away with it far more often than those who don't. But, I'll bet every single person who injured a toe or foot from a lawn mower or powered trimmer would tell you their pain and suffering wasn't worth it. In hindsight, even though they had gotten away with it every other time they had cut their grass without proper footwear, the one time they got hurt overshadowed every other time they didn't get hurt. The same is true for wearing shorts or other clothing that doesn't cover your legs.

And what about wearing cheap sunglasses? Some would say that wearing any glasses is better than wearing no glasses during yard work. Safety professionals would likely say that non-impact resistant, non-shatterproof eyewear is just another source of shrapnel when a rock, stick or some other projectile breaks your lenses on the way to penetrating your eyeball. Plus, glasses don't protect against dust and other debris getting into your eyes. Anyone who has ever had a grain of sand or dust get into their eyes knows the difference goggles provide over just glasses or a face shield. There's another danger faced by yard workers in this scenario, also. Dehydration and heat-related injuries can both happen, and worsen the effects of each other, during high heat and humidity conditions combined with heavy exercise or exertion.

Maybe it's just human nature, but it's usually easier to recognize dangers in situations that other people face than it is to recognize the dangers in situations we personally face. Plenty of safety related studies and surveys have been written about the "it'll never happen to me" syndrome and passive acceptance of risk. The common theme in these studies is that knowledge or recognition of a danger isn't enough of a motivator to change a person's risk acceptance choices. So, what does motivate behavioral choices when "knowing better, doesn't mean doing better"?

But hey, we're all safety conscious adults who are smart enough to clear trash and other debris from the yard before mowing, keep children and pets out of the area, not refill or start engines inside sheds or garages, not let adolescents operate riding or walk-behind mowers unsupervised, and we double check electrical cords for fraying, and don't operate power tools while impaired, right? Besides, we know these dangers exist and solutions to avoid them are obvious and easy to acquire; specifically, wearing hearing protection, impact/shatter resistant eye glasses or goggles, long pants and sturdy footwear preferably with steel-toes, using sun-block and drinking plenty of water. After all, we won't be one of the estimated 230,000 Americans injured during yard work this year, will we?