Equipment safety and maintenance best practices

With warmer weather urging people to put away snow throwers and bring out lawn mowers, string trimmers, and other lawn and garden equipment, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) reminds consumers that equipment care, maintenance and safety is a year round activity. To operate machines safely, it’s important that equipment operators understand safety procedures and set expectations with others who use this equipment or are nearby.

“Many people are eager to pull out lawn and garden equipment right now. Who wouldn’t be desperate to kick start spring this year? This winter generated colossal respect for snow throwers, and we urge people to put these prized possessions away safely so they’ll be there for them next year,” said Kris Kiser, president and CEO of OPEI. “You want to ready your spring equipment for the same reasons: you want the equipment available when you need it.”

Below are key tips for safe operation of mowers, chain saws, trimmers and edgers, generators, and other outdoor power equipment for lawn and landscape management.

Safety and Maintenance Tips:

         Use the right equipment for the task. Mowers, hedge trimmers and more are designed to help you manage a landscape as efficiently and productively as possible. Select a “right-sized” product for the job. Ask your retailer/dealer for assistance in size, capabilities, power sources and features that fit your needs.

         Assign the right person to use the equipment. Only allow responsible adults who are familiar with the instructions to operate the machine. Do not let children use outdoor power equipment. These machines should not be operated by young people who are not physically or developmentally ready to assume the responsibility of operating a powerful machine. For more on children and mower safety access the OPEI Children & Mowers Safety Fact Sheet.

         Alert nearby people of work to be done. Confirm the locations of pets and children, and ask that they be kept out of the area and supervised.

         Read the operator’s manual to understand the controls of your equipment. Know how to stop the machine quickly. Do not remove or disable guards or safety devices.

         Regularly inspect your equipment. Check for loose belts and missing or damaged parts. Drain and responsibly dispose of old oil and put in fresh oil before starting equipment that has been in long-time storage. Install clean air filters so your engine and equipment will run optimally.

         Have your lawn mower’s cutting blades sharpened so your mower will operate more efficiently, cutting your lawn cleaner and making it healthier. For key mowing safety tips, access the OPEI Lawn Mower Safety Fact Sheet.

         Know your terrain. When operating on slopes, select the appropriate machine.  Keep away from drop-offs and other hazards (water). Uneven terrain could overturn the machine. For key safe operation on slopes and uneven terrain, access the OPEI Slopes Safety Fact Sheet.

         Clear the area being managed. Remove debris, wires, branches, nails, rocks, or metal that may become projectiles if thrown by lawn mower blades and other equipment.

         Dress properly. Wear substantial shoes, long pants and close-fitting clothes. You may want eye or hearing protection.

         Observe safe fueling procedures. Fill your gasoline tank only when the engine is cool. If you need to refuel before completing a job, turn off the machine and allow the engine to cool. Never light a match or smoke around gasoline.

         Do not use gas with more than 10 percent ethanol (E10) in your mower. Some gasoline filling stations may offer 15 percent ethanol (E15) gas or other fuel blends, but this higher ethanol fuel is dangerous—and is in fact illegal—to use in your mower or in any small engine equipment. Get more information on safe fueling at

         When putting away last season’s equipment, clean it and be sure to drain and responsibly dispose of fuel. Don’t leave fuel sitting in the tank for more than thirty days. Untreated gasoline (without a fuel stabilizer) left in the system will deteriorate, which may cause starting or running problems and, in some cases, damage to the fuel system.

“One challenge is that most fuel contains some level of ethanol, which contains corrosive alcohol. If that fuel is left in the tank over the winter months, it may damage your equipment. You need to drain it,” advises Kiser. “Unless otherwise specified by your manufacturer, don’t forget to only use new fuel that is E10 or less to keep your machines