Don't take shortcuts with lawnmower safety
It's the time of year when mowing the lawn becomes a weekend job or a burden depending on how you look at it. Unfortunately, every year lawn-mowers are the number one consumer product associated with injury in the yard and equipment category according to the National Safety Council.
You might think the main danger to worry about is from the mower blades, but don't forget that both gasoline and electricity used to power mowers can also cause serious injury or even be deadly. Let's look at gasoline first.
Gasoline, of course, is highly flammable and gives off vapor, which is easily ignited. Don't store the gas can close to a source of ignition. When you run out of gas when mowing, give the mower a chance to cool down before refueling.
It's important to store gasoline in proper containers that are clearly marked. It is poisonous and should be kept away from children. Poisoning is the fourth leading cause of accidental deaths.
Before mowing walk through the area and pick up anything the blades of the mower could send flying. Never modify a lawn mower's discharge chute or any other safety device.
It is tempting to wear shorts and thongs while mowing, but long pants, socks, shoes, a shirt and even a pair of glasses are recommended.
Manufacturers are working hard to improve their products so that we are exposed to fewer dangers all the time. This includes noise. Hearing loss happens so gradually that we only notice it after much damage has been done. Noise levels are measured in decibels and many lawnmowers produce well over 100 decibels. The longer a person is exposed to loud noises, the more the potential for damage. The OSHA hearing conservation regulation kicks off at an "action level" of 85 decibels in the workplace and learing protection is mandated at 90 decibels. In the workplace 90 decibels for an eight-hour time weighted average is the point at which permanent damage could occur if a person is not wearing hearing protection. For each rise of five decibels the level of noise is doubled. So if your lawn mower produces 100 decibels of noise, permanent damage could be done if you are exposed to the noise for more than two hours. Wear earplugs or muffs (your CD player's headphones don't count).
With electric lawn mowers you don't have to worry about gasoline, and in general electric mowers are much quieter. However, the outlet that the electric lawnmower is plugged into should be equipped with a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). A GFCI is meant for personal protection, and not for the protection of equipment. The circuits in our homes are usually rated for 30 amps. This is more than 300 times the amount of current that can kill a human. One milliamp is 1/1000th of an ampere. At just 5 to 25 milliamps you will not be able to let go. Just 50 to 200 milliamps is all it takes to cause ventricular fibrillation and over 100 milliamps will cause paralysis of breathing.
If a fault occurs on a circuit and the current is flowing through your body the circuit breaker in your home is looking for over 30 amps before it will open. A GFCI senses the difference between the wires (neutral and hot wire) bringing the electricity to the load and opens the circuit if it sees a difference of just five milliamps. This is just within the threshold of perception or the amount of current that makes you realize that you are experiencing the flow of electricity through your body. If have you haven't already, please have a GFCI installed on all outdoor electrical outlets.
Roger Stegeman is manager of safety for the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives. You can write to him in care of Illinois Country Living, P.O. Box 3787, Springfield, IL 62708. Telephone (217) 529-5561 or e-mail email@example.com.
14 ILLINOIS COUNTRY LIVING • JUNE 2001