Working hard in the yard? Remember these safety tips

By Andrea Dong, BWC Occupational Safety and Hygiene Fellow

Think about a typical grounds maintenance worker, like a landscaper or tree trimmer, and the tasks they perform on the job. Mowing, weeding, trimming, watering and planting – these probably sound familiar, and you likely have a similar to-do list for your yard at home.

Now take a moment to think about your awareness of the different hazards in this type of work. Are you taking the necessary precautions to protect yourself and everyone around you?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that landscaping workers experienced 9,030 injuries in 2015. The following are some guidelines to help you avoid injuries while performing these tasks at home.

Mowing the lawn is probably something many of you have been doing for years, and it has become second nature. However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates lawn mowing injuries sent nearly 82,000 people to the emergency room in 2015.

Before you begin, make sure you’re wearing the proper clothes; long pants, sturdy shoes with a good grip, safety glasses and ear plugs are recommended. Inspect your lawn mower before using and make sure there are no cracks, nicks or parts missing. Next you will need to add fuel to the mower. Never do this while the motor is running to reduce the risk of fires and explosions.

Now that you have the right clothing, have checked for damage and have fuel in your engine, it’s finally time to start mowing, right? Before you answer, consider the terrain where you will be working. Debris, like sticks or rocks, can be swept up by the blades and thrown out from under the mower.

The standard mower blade rotates at thousands of RPM, which translates to hundreds of MPH, and any object thrown will also travel this fast. Use the discharge chute guard to deflect debris. Watch out for bystanders, especially children, to make sure other people will not be hit.

Consider the type of mower you own along with the environment. Walk-behind and riding lawn mowers have different operating procedures and different safety concerns. For example, does your lawn have a slope or incline? With walk-behind mowers you should always mow across the slope, never up or down. If you slip, you do not want your feet to get caught between the blades.

If you use a riding mower, you should be mowing up and down the slope, which decreases your chances of tipping. If there are any drop-offs, ditches or embankments, use a string trimmer to cut grass near the edge.

Hand tools – such as shovels, hoes, rakes, shears, trowels, pruners and others – can also cause serious injury if not handled correctly. The CPSC estimates more than 64,000 injuries in 2015 were due to garden hand tool use. Only use the tool for the tasks it was designed to do.

Keep tools in good condition, and do not use if there is any damage. Look for splintered, loose, bent, or cracked handles, mushroomed heads, sprung joints, and worn teeth. Wear clothing like long pants, long sleeved-shirts, gloves, close-toed shoes and safety glasses for added protection.

Aside from hazards like cuts and bruises, hand tools can also cause strains or sprains. Overextending yourself doing yard work at home increases any soreness and fatigue from working at your job.

Straighten your back when using long-handled garden tools. Avoid using tools above shoulder height. Rotate tasks as frequently as possible to reduce your risk for repetitive motion injuries.

Working outside can also expose you to environmental hazards, with heat stress being a common occurrence in the summer. Some symptoms of heat exhaustion are dizziness, headaches, fatigue, irritation, and clammy, moist, and flushed skin.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency that includes symptoms like hot, dry skin, disorientation or confusion, convulsions, or unconsciousness. It’s important to stay cool and drink water frequently to avoid overheating. Take frequent breaks and try to complete heavy work in the coolest part of the day, usually between 6 and 10 a.m.

By following these guidelines, you can ensure your yard looks great while you and your family stay safe and healthy this summer.

Metal scrapper, business owner guilty of work comp fraud

A Columbus man on disability benefits for a workplace injury must reimburse the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) $35,000 after investigators found him collecting and selling 46 tons of scrap metal during a time he purported to be disabled.

Richard Claffey, 53, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. In addition to restitution, he must serve five years of community control in lieu of six months in prison.

“An anonymous source told us Mr. Claffey was ‘junking’ everyday, picking up refrigerators and stoves and driving through alleys every evening to collect metal and sell it to local scrap yards,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID). “Some might call ‘junking’ more of a hobby than a profession, but we found Mr. Claffey made a living from these efforts, which disqualified him from receiving BWC benefits.”

Claffey suffered a workplace injury in 2010 while working for a landscaping company.

In other fraud news, a Carroll County business owner with lapsed BWC coverage pleaded guilty to workers’ comp fraud after failing to bring his business into compliance despite multiple efforts by BWC staff to help him do so. Investigators found the owner even changed the name of his business and applied for new coverage to avoid paying his BWC debt.

Warren Kelm, owner of Augering Technologies/Coal Auger Pro Inc.,  pleaded guilty to the first-degree misdemeanor April 20 and paid $14,515 toward the balance he owes to BWC.

“We appreciate the financial challenges of running a business, but if an employer is falling behind on their BWC premiums, they need to call us and we’ll work with them,” said SID Director Wernecke. “Cutting corners or trying to cheat the system will always cost them more in the long run.”

Kelm is now operating with proper coverage. A judge sentenced him to three years of community control in lieu of six months in jail.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.