Yard Work Safety
LESLIE: Well, working in your yard can be a wonderful opportunity for exercise in the pursuit of a beautiful lawn or garden.
TOM: Ah, yes. But it can also be an opportunity for backaches and unplanned visits to the emergency room if you are not careful. Here with some tips on how to stay safe while working in the great outdoors is Roger Cook, the landscaping expert from TV’s This Old House.
And Roger, this is the kind of project that you don’t do all the time and when you do do it, you finally get a lot of energy up and a lot of excitement, you want to dive right in but man, you can get hurt awfully quick, can’t you?
ROGER: Well, there are dangerous parts to it, Tom. You have to assess it before you do it, I guess, is the way to look at it.
TOM: So where are the most common places that people get hurt doing yard work?
ROGER: Well, usually going out the door when they trip over the stoop and fall down.
The biggest complaint, to start with, is sore muscles and blisters, OK? If you haven’t done this for a long period of time, then you should really think about stretching a little bit before you go to do the work or doing a little over a period of time.
The other thing is wear gloves. A lot of people don’t have that beat-up, callous hands that I have. And once you get blisters, boy, that’ll put a real damper on the whole day.
LESLIE: And do you think it’s also an unfamiliarity with some of the tools, because you’re not using them that often? Is it good to really read manuals if you’ve got them and familiarize yourself?
ROGER: Readapt yourself every year you go out and you go to do something and it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I kind of remember how to do this.” But it takes five minutes to read a manual and pick up all the safety tips you need.
TOM: Now let’s talk about lawnmower safety, in particular. I mean that’s a – certainly can be a very relaxing thing to do on a Saturday afternoon but as those blades are spinning around, you’re throwing a lot of debris with it, too.
ROGER: Right. And you always want to have either a bag or they make a chute deflector on a mower. Never take the chute deflector off, because that keeps those things from flying out of the chute. That sounds pretty good: flying out of the chute.
TOM: That’s why it’s called a chute deflector.
ROGER: Deflector. But it’s very, very important. I’ve seen windows broken; I’ve seen dents in cars from things being thrown out. But you’ve got to imagine that the power coming out of that is incredible. I’ve seen people cutting their lawns in bare feet and shorts and it like scares the living daylights out of me.
ROGER: Please, when you’re using something like a lawnmower, work boots, long pants, gloves, eye and ear protection; they’re all good things.
TOM: And keep your kids away and whatever you do, don’t put them on the mower. I cannot believe how many people do that; it is just so, so dumb.
ROGER: Right. And you watch the kid push down on the handles to make it turn and then it’s going and the blades are going and every – please, no.
LESLIE: Now what about – so many of us have to use pesticides or certain chemicals to control situations in the yard. I imagine there’s a whole host of safety issues there.
ROGER: It’s the classic case of minimize what you use is the greatest thing you can use. So use some organic things where you can get control; then you have to use your pesticides and insecticides. But when you do, number one, use the proper protection: even a breathing apparatus and glasses; long pants, again, so you don’t absorb it; and sometimes rubber glove.
But the biggest thing is storage. You want to put that someplace that you’re the only one to get at; either under lock and key or up high enough that no kid could ever grab it.
TOM: And most of us or very many of us who just, say, that have garages will store our lawn equipment and our lawn chemicals there. And I think what many people don’t realize is that’s the one place in your house where toys and toxins are almost side by side.
ROGER: Right. That’s pretty scary, isn’t it?
TOM: It really is.
ROGER: One mistake either way and disaster.
LESLIE: Oh, this soccer ball, it’s right next to that chemical pesticide. Go for it.
ROGER: Right. No, that’s alright. You go get it.
TOM: Now what about string trimmers? That’s a pretty popular tool to have. See a lot of homeowners using it; the trimmers and the edgers. What kind of mistakes do people make with those?
ROGER: Again, eye and ear protection is a must. I’ve seen even commercial guys out trimming without that and I’ll stop and yell at them at the side of the road and say, “What are you, crazy?” It takes so little for you to lose an eye. One little pebble coming up and that could be it.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And the other thing that I think a lot of people get excited to use in the yard has got to be a chainsaw. But I think about one and suddenly I have visions of Friday the 13th, the movie, with hockey masks and screaming; crazy messes. How do you safely use one if you don’t use one all the time?
ROGER: Again, read the directions. Don’t overestimate what you can do with a saw. A lot of people go out and take a tree that’s huge and try to cut it down or cut it up with a little, tiny saw and it won’t do the job and then you start pushing really hard to make it go and it kicks back and it cuts you.
The one thing I will tell you is I use chainsaws a lot. Every day, before I start a chainsaw, I say, “This piece of equipment can kill you,” and that rationale helps me get through the day. The other thing I would tell you that when you use a chainsaw, as the day goes on, you get tired.
LESLIE: Well and you become complacent; you just feel like it’s repetitive.
ROGER: Right. And that …
TOM: And the blade gets dull.
ROGER: Well, yeah. The blade getting dull isn’t as critical as not being in proper position when you’re cutting.
ROGER: Because you’re tired, you start reaching and doing things that you wouldn’t do, instead of positioning your body in the right spot.
TOM: Roger Cook from TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
And for more tips on how to work safely around your home, you want to visit ThisOldHouse.com.
And Leslie, there’s also a great photo gallery there called “11 Ways Yard Work Can Kill, Maim or Blind You.”
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. I know it’s a funny title but it’s a really, really important topic, so make sure you check it out. And of course, you can watch Roger and the entire This Old House team on This Old House and Ask This Old House, on your local PBS station.
TOM: And This Old House is brought to you by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.