WorkCover is urging commercial ride-on mower operators to exercise extreme caution – particularly when driving on steep or uneven ground – following a recent fatality in the Blue Mountains.
Last month a 74-year-old self-employed property maintenance worker died after being crushed under a ride-on mower belonging to a property owner at Mt Irvine. It is believed the man was driving in wet conditions when the mower overturned.
Although infrequent, several tragic ride-on mower incidents have been recorded in NSW, as well as a number of 'near misses', and others involving injuries.
Acting General Manager of WorkCover's Work Health and Safety Division Peter Dunphy said commercial ride-on mower operators must take all necessary safety precautions to avoid serious injury.
"It's important to use the right equipment for the right job. A quality zero-turn mower is more appropriate for larger jobs and significantly safer than budget models," Mr Dunphy said.
"Zero-turn models are heavier with a wider cutting deck and a more substantial driver platform, so are less likely to roll over. Many models feature roll-over protection bars or cages.
"No matter the model or job, operators should never cut corners. "These machines are a highly effective time-saving resource, however, if not used correctly then riders may be at significant risk of sustaining serious injuries," Mr Dunphy said.
The main hazards include falling off a mower and either being run over by the machine and lacerated by moving blades or pinned underneath and crushed.
"A fall can occur if a mower is driven too fast or accidentally runs over an object or is driven across a slope, uneven surface or near edges. It is important that where machines are fitted with a seat belt, riders wear them," he said.
"It is important to check for and clear away any debris or obstacles before mowing. In addition to driving slowly and taking extra care when turning, always mow up and down on slopes – never mow across a slope or steep gradient.
"Always shut down the machine before getting off the mower, even if it is only momentarily to clear away debris – and never override the seat safety switch.
"Keep your feet firmly on the mower decking away from the grass and blades, and make sure you check behind for objects, pedestrians or animals before reversing."
Mr Dunphy said mowers must be properly maintained and riders should undergo appropriate training, including familiarisation with operating manuals and safety instructions.
"Before using the machine, always consult the manufacturer's operator manual to check operating parameters and only use the mower within these specifications," he said.
Equally important was the provision of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as goggles or safety glasses, hearing protection and long pants made of thick material.
Previous NSW ride-on mower fatalities include:
- A man drowned after a mower rolled into a dam, trapping him beneath the machine. The incident took place at Ocean Shores on the far north coast of NSW in March 2012.
- A man sustained fatal injuries after coming into contact with rotating blades after a mower flipped. The incident occurred at Orchard Hills in Sydney's west in November 2010.
- WorkCover is also aware of several near-miss incidents and injuries involving ride-on mower operators. These include:* A man reversed a ride-on mower at Wollongong in 2013 and it slipped down an embankment and rolled over; he escaped injury.
- A man mowed a paddock at Belrose on Sydney's Northern Beaches in 2013 and did not notice the grass behind him was on fire. The ignition source was believed to have been the mower exhaust. No-one was injured but it took firefighters more than two hours to contain the blaze, which burnt 3.5 hectares of grass.
- A man sustained injuries to his ribs, collarbone and head after losing control of a mower, which went through a fence and down a slope into a canal in Parramatta in 2012.