Do you treat your lawn mower or tractor with proper respect?
It may seem an odd question, but Harford farming and lawn equipment experts say that a little respect, and basic common sense, could prevent many of the equipment-related injuries that occur each year.
"The No. 1 killer of farmers is farm equipment," said Donald Hoopes, president of the Harford County Farm Bureau, a peach farmer. "ButI'd like to see homeowners get the message that even little two-horsepower garden tractors can turn over, too. People want them, but theyshould know about safety."
Hoopes' first safety tip: Don't let your children get near the mower.
He and other farmers complained several weeks ago about a picture that appeared on the front cover of the Harford County Sun of a woman on a large mower holding a child in her lap.
"It breaks my heart to see kids on a mower. It's not safe," said Hoopes. "My father let us ride on the farm equipment, but my word to my children is 'No.' "
Because lawn and garden equipment is so heavy, it easily tips when operated on a hill, Hoopes said. Unexpected problems, such as hitting a gopher hole or other flaws in the terrain, can make it difficult to handle the equipment, even without the distraction of caring for a child.
Another basic safety rule: Read the owner's manual.
It's also the first safety rule that's broken, said Jeff Coudon, a salesman for Walter G. Coale Inc. in Churchville, a company that sells everything from mowers to heavy farm equipment.
"Every owner's manual has a first page with safety instructions, and there's a reason for that," said Coudon. "But people don't read owner's manuals. They try to wing it, or they try to bypass built-in safety mechanisms, like taping down the levers you push to make a lawn mower move. They're there so the engine stops when you let go,so you don't run over your foot or hurt yourself picking up sticks or moving rocks out of the way. People somehow think they print these manuals because out-of-work publishers need the business."
Even people who read the manuals can be injured when using heavy equipment because they are overconfident -- something else Coudon knows about from personal experience.
"A couple of weeks ago I stuck my finger in a chipper where the blades are," said Coudon, "and I know better."
Although the machine was off, when he tried to push a blade aroundwith his finger, he suffered a cut that required stitches. "It's a problem of over-confidence that develops when people do things routinely," said Coudon. "And you get lax when you get into a routine."
Fatigue is another problem, especially for farmers, said Gene Umbarger, a former full-time dairy farmer turned real estate agent.
"A lotof accidents have to do with farmers overworking themselves," said Umbarger. "They work daylight to dark, not eight hours like everybody else, and they're so fatigued and stressed out they do things they shouldn't do."