The first warm (or at least cool) spring days can make even a homebody want to race out and get working on the yard or garden.
It's a good thing, too. If yard work weren't so appealing at the beginning of the season, homeowners (or their hired help) could never outlast the onslaught of heat and overgrown weeds later in the summer.
But don't let all that enthusiasm lead to injuries or property destruction, the Alexandria, Virginia-based Outdoor Power Equipment Institute warned. From the kickback on chainsaws to old gasoline destroying fuel systems, lawn equipment can injure operators, bystanders and the equipment itself. Add the possibility of falls and spider bites and the struggle to stay safe during spring lawn care is real.
But it's also manageable, noted OPEI president and CEO Kris Kiser. He and other safety, health and wildlife experts share these tips for becoming "backyard ready" for a safe and productive season of working on your lawn and garden:
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Use your eyes before you use your power tools
Like a good farmer, use the "too cold to plant or dig" period just before spring to assess your outdoor power equipment. Check for loose belts and missing or damaged parts, Kiser advised. If you have missing parts or need repairs, now is the time to hustle to a qualified service rep. Repair shops get busy when spring's in full swing, so beat the rush.
Review the safety playbook
Before you use a mower, trimmer, blower, chain saw or pruner, review the owner's manual and refresh your memory on safety procedures, Kiser recommended. If you've lost the manual, get an online version and keep it handy on your computer.
Do away with old fuel
Any fuel older than 30 days should not be in your equipment's tank. Not only will it deteriorate, Kiser cautioned, but gasoline that hasn't been treated with a fuel stabilizer may make the equipment tough to start or run. It may even damage the fuel system.
Only use fuel that's E10 or less in your power equipment
OPEI warned that any fuel that contains more than 10 percent ethanol might damage small engine equipment, which is why it's illegal to use for power equipment, including mowers. To stay safe, label any fuel cans with the date you purchased the gasoline and its ethanol content.
Set expectations with your family and pets
Everyone is excited that spring has finally sprung, but the kids and pets need to stay safely inside under the supervision of a responsible adult while you use outdoor power equipment, according to Kiser. "Talk with your family about safety and remind them to follow procedures."
Cut off chainsaw dangers
There's a reason chainsaws are featured in so many horror movies− they can do scary things. Whether this is your first spring with a chainsaw or you're an old hand, remember the kickback that can occur when the nose or tip of the guide bar touches an object or when the wood closes in and pinches the saw chain in the cut. "Tip contact may cause a lightning-fast reverse reaction, kicking the guide bar up and back toward the operator," OPEI warned. Homeowners employing a chainsaw should anticipate the surprise and wear all the gear, including safety footwear, snug-fitting clothing, protective chaps, gloves and eye, hearing and head protection devices.
Other tips to avoid chainsaw injury: turn the engine off when carrying the chainsaw and always have a path of retreat from a falling tree or branches.
Avoid the creepy crawlies
Some yard work dangers are living, breathing creatures. If you haven't been in the garden or on the lawn since winter, you should pay extra attention to places you might find snakes in your yard, like undisturbed wood piles or old compost piles.
Not that you need to eliminate the snakes, according to America Wetland Resources. Most of them aren't venomous, and it's rare that a property has more than one or two.
"Remember, don't touch it with your hands. Use a shovel to place the snake in a deep bucket with a cover. The chances of your encountering a venomous species is remote, but possible enough to always be careful!"
Spiders are another early-spring lawn care hazard, but not one to obsess over, according to UCLA Health.
"Although all spiders have mouth parts that can bite, most spiders aren't dangerous to people."
Even the two types of spiders found in the United States that can cause illness in people, the black widow and the brown recluse, are usually not deadly, though they can make a person very sick, according to UCLA Health.
Still, spider-bite prevention is possible and should be your first line of defense.
"Both the black widow and brown recluse spiders are shy and avoid areas of a home with lots of activity or open spaces," UCLA Health explained. "They prefer quiet corners of a home, dark areas under seldom-moved furniture, garages, sheds, and wood piles. Neither spider is overly aggressive. They usually bite only when provoked or trapped against the skin."
To reduce or eliminate encounters with spiders, UCLA Health recommended wearing gloves, shaking out tarps and blankets that have been stored in an attic or basement and carefully checking shoes or boots that have been stored in a shed or garage before putting them on.