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August 31, 2012

Purdue expert urges safety when mowing near water, slopes

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Rainfall around the state has rejuvenated drought-stressed lawns and pastures, leading many landowners to return to their lawn chores. With the increase in mowing after a long period of inactivity comes an emphasis on mowing safety.

People operating lawn maintenance equipment near bodies of water or on sloping ground should use extra caution, a Purdue University professor of agriculture and biological engineering department advises.

"Mowing grass and keeping a lawn looking nice should not cost anyone their life," Bill Field said.

There have been reports of lawn maintenance equipment overturning, including cases in which the operator and machine ended up in retention ponds or other bodies of water. In some cases, the operators drowned as they were pinned underwater by their machine.

"Operators should avoid steep terrain, stream banks, edges of retention ponds and steep roadsides," Field said.

A mower with a higher center of gravity has a greater risk for overturn, but all self-propelled machines are vulnerable to overturning when crossing sloped ground, Field said. Even machines with rollover protective structures, called ROPS, and seatbelts can overturn and endanger operators.

Approaches to increasing the stability of a mower include adding extra weight to lower the center of gravity or using wider tires to increase the width of the wheelbase. But these approaches do not ensure an operator's safety because embankments may give way under the additional weight.

Another idea is to leave the area uncut or trim it with a weed whacker on foot if it is unsafe to mow. Field suggests additional alternatives, such as mulching the area, using decorative stones or planting permanent vegetation along steep banks or around bodies of water instead of mowing.

Landowners should be sensitive to how they feel and react when operating their mowers.

"If you feel like you need to grip something to stay upright or have to reposition your rear end on the seat to give you a sense of stability, it's time to find another place to mow," Field said.

Writer: Amanda Gee, 765-496-2384, agee@purdue.edu

Source: William E. Field, 765-494-1191, field@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson, robins89@purdue.edu
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