Tools and power equipment, such as leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, but even chain saws and power cutters, make lives of both casual and professional users easier by helping them out in their daily tasks. However, to quote the now notorious saying, “With great power also comes great responsibility”. This applies to outdoor power equipment as well!
- Before You Start: Prepare Your Workspace
- Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Know Your Leaf Blower Intimately
- Gas-powered Blowers: Handling Oil and Fuel
- Electric Blowers: Extension Cords, Battery Safety
- Design-specific Safety Considerations
The power these devices command comes with some inherent safety hazards. By using outdoor power equipment, you may be risking your fingers, neck, something subtler such as hearing, or merely your property. Are you ready to give any of these up?
In this article, we will tackle the topic of leaf blower safety. We will explain possible safety hazards that you may encounter when working with leaf blowers and what precautions to take to prevent them.
By following these guidelines, you’ll have all the necessary knowledge to work on your landscaping tasks safely and effectively!
Before You Start: Prepare Your Workspace
First things first. Before you shift our attention to working with a leaf blower, you should first take care of the space where you’re going to do so.
Damaging your surroundings with your leaf blower is an acute risk and appropriate steps must be taken to avoid it! Leaf blowers can eject air at speeds which easily exceed 200 mph. For comparison, that beats the 157 mph limit of category-five storms (opens in a new tab) and is roughly 1/4 of the speed of sound (767 mph).
It is also crucial that you not trip, fall or are otherwise compromised by the terrain you’re working in.
Follow these steps to avoid injuring yourself or endangering your property:
- Close all doors and windows in the area where you’ll be working.
- Remove all objects which are not stationary or sufficiently heavy.
- Make sure to inform your family that you are working. If you have kids, take care that they cannot interfere. If they do so, shut down your device immediately.
- Check for potholes, puddles, mud and slippery surfaces, rocks, or any other rough terrain and plan your job accordingly.
Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
We have all become familiar with personal protective equipment (opens in a new tab) (PPE in short). Although where and when to wear face masks is a hot issue of 2020, wearing PPE when using leaf blowers is not up to debate! By not doing so, you are exposing yourselves to major health risks.
To make sure you’re covered, follow these guidelines…
Air expelled by leaf blowers doesn’t discriminate between leaves and debris. Keeping dust, debris and possibly even small rocks away from your eyes is critical for their safety and not doing so may lead to varying degrees of discomfort (opens in a new tab), up to retinal damage and permanently impaired vision.
It is therefore necessary to use eye protection – safety goggles (or glasses) whenever you are using a leaf blower.
We recommend using sealed safety goggles, which have an adhesive rubber seal to fully prevent anything getting into your eyes.
Most leaf blowers are very loud, often even exceeding the 90 dB safe workplace limit set by OSHA (opens in a new tab). However, even chronic exposure to lower volumes may cause long-term hearing damage.
Therefore, it is highly recommended that you use hearing protection, be it active, passive, muffs or ear plugs. Check out our article to learn everything about protecting your hearing!
Consider Using a Dust Mask
Though this point is often neglected in leaf blower user manuals, consider the following. Using a leaf blower will expose you to large amounts of dust.
Although most dust particles simply cause mild irritation, particles classified as PM10 and PM2.5 (opens in a new tab) can enter deep into your lungs and even your blood stream, which may in turn lead to irreparable damage. Therefore, you may consider using a dust mask or a respirator to protect your airways.
Work Apparel, Gloves and Footwear
You should expect minor inconveniences when doing any manual labor. Oil spills, rough terrain, abrasive handles and many more annoyances are often encountered when using leaf blowers. To make your life easier, consider wearing proper work apparel along with work gloves and safety footwear.
Know Your Leaf Blower Intimately
Now that you’ve taken care of yourself and your surroundings, it’s finally time to talk about your leaf blower. Compared to chainsaws, drills, trimmers, etc., leaf blowers can be considered much safer power tools.
You’d have to be pretty creative to gravely injure or mutilate yourself with a leaf blower. However, using leaf blowers incorrectly can potentially be quite dangerous. In addition, both gas and electricity, which power your blower, are deadly elements and require caution.
As we always recommend, please read the user manual to learn how to use your device correctly correctly (Check out our article on How to use a leaf blower like a pro!). Read which safety precautions are recommended by the blower’s manufacturer. Learn how to assemble and disassemble your unit, and how to periodically maintain it.
Though we find it almost unnecessary to list off each rule and would rather simply replace the rest of this article with the words “use common sense”, it is crucial that you do not underestimate any safety precautions. Missing out on just one may get you or somebody else injured.
- Do not use your leaf blower for anything but blowing leaves (or rather do so at your own risk).
- Periodically maintain your leaf blower, following instructions listed in its user manual.
- Keep children and pets away from your leaf blower.
- Do not use your leaf blower if it is damaged or partially disassembled.
- Do not leave your leaf blower unattended while it is still running.
- Stop using your leaf blower if you encounter technical issues, vibrations, or atypical noise.
- Do not stick your body parts, nor anything else for that matter, into the blower and do not point your blower at anybody, including yourself, while it is still running.
- Keep your blower dry, away from water and do not use it during snow/rainfall.
- Do not touch the engine or the muffler of a leaf blower while it is running, you’ll burn yourself.
- Store your unit in a dry, enclosed place. Never leave it sit outside unattended.
- If there’s anything wrong with your blower, consult the user manual and eventually contact the manufacturer, or an authorized service, to help you deal with the issue at hand.
Gas-powered Blowers: Handling Oil and Fuel
What follows are some instructions that are specific to gas-powered blowers. Gas-powered blowers require you to handle and store highly flammable oil and fuel. Naturally, this is both a health and a fire hazard, and will require appropriate precautions.
Though we find it unnecessary to give commonsense recommendations such as “Please avoid drinking gasoline”, there are several safety instructions which should be mentioned and always upheld.
- Never start a gas-powered unit indoors. It will poison you and kill you (opens in a new tab).
- Both gasoline and oil are highly flammable (opens in a new tab). Do not leave behind any spills, as any spark or even elevated temperatures (such as the body of the running blower) may result in a fire.
- Gasoline and oil must be stored in a cool and dry place. If possible, do so in a tool shed. If not, your garage should suffice. Use appropriate containers designed to hold gasoline and oil (opens in a new tab).
- Let your blower cool down before you refill it! The temperature of the engine under power easily exceeds the flash point of gasoline.
- Do not smoke when using a gas-powered blower or handling gasoline/oil.
- Keep a fire extinguisher around for emergency situations.
Electric Blowers: Extension Cords, Battery Safety
Though electric blowers, both corded and cordless, are safer compared to their gas-powered counterparts, do not underestimate the risks that come with them (opens in a new tab)! Keep in mind that electricity is indiscriminate and unlike a fire will strike you down immediately upon contact without a prior warning.
- Keep plugs, extension cords and the unit dry and never touch them with wet hands! If you find them wet by accident, let them dry thoroughly before attempting to use them again!
- Avoid using damaged extension cords and other faulty electrical utilities, such as leaking batteries!
- Properly dispose of old batteries (opens in a new tab)! Do not simply throw them into the trash before checking that you may do so! (This applies to any battery-containing unit as well.)
- Make sure to keep track of where your extension cord is and be aware of its range! Tripping over or overextending the cord is far more likely than any of the aforementioned scenarios.
Design-specific Safety Considerations
Specific blower designs have their unique properties. With them comes and additional responsibility for their handling and associated safety hazards.
The main risk associated with handheld blowers is that they are easily dropped, which may damage the device and potentially even hurt you. Secondary risks of hand-held blowers are also related to their handling and involve possible development of arm, shoulder and back pain.
- Take care to maintain a good, secure grip (e.g., by using gloves)! Wear sturdy boots with a hard toe to avoid injuring yourself by dropping the blower on your foot.
- Avoid using hand-held blowers for hours at end and take occasional breaks if you need to!
- Consult your doctor if you have any physical issues which may prevent you from carrying heavy loads, or if you experience physical issues when handling the blower!
Backpack blowers are larger and heavier, but somewhat easier to handle once you have them strapped to your back.
- Secure the leaf blower’s straps according to instructions in the user manual and distribute the weight of the blower evenly across both shoulders before you proceed to turn it on!
- Never use a backpack blower if you have been diagnosed with back problems, such as scoliosis!
- Always wear recommended work apparel when using a backpack blower to avoid accidents caused by loose clothing, abrasions due to insufficient clothing, etc.!
Walk-behind blowers are the physically least demanding models. However, some unique issues arise due to the introduction of wheels.
- Always make sure to only use a walk-behind blower on a suitable terrain – level, without potholes, rocks, etc.!
- Maintain your wheels regularly. Do not use the blower unless they’re checked and fully operational!
- If you’re not physically fit, do not attempt to pick up the push blower and never do so unless it’s turned off!
- Wear sturdy boots with a hard toe to avoid injuries!
Using blower vacs requires you to be mindful of what you’re vacuuming. It is a good practice to first use the leaf blower to gather leaves onto a pile and only then proceed to vacuum them. Not only that the method is more effective than vacuuming leaves one by one, but it will also allow you to make sure that you are only vacuuming materials which the blower can safely handle.
- In general, blower vacs cannot deal with hard materials. Any metals, but also thick pieces of wood will most likely get stuck in the blower and may cause permanent damage!
- Never attempt to vacuum puddles or water in general! It is also not advised to vacuum wet leaves.
- Avoid wearing loose clothing and be mindful of long hair, plants and anything else that may be accidentally vacuumed!
In summary, leaf blowers are quite safe power tools with only limited associated risks which arise from the nature of their design and the way they are powered.
General guidelines of workspace management and appropriate work apparel should be upheld as with any outdoor power equipment. We stress the importance of good maintenance practice. Appropriate precautions should be taken when handling and storing gasoline or operating an electrically powered device.
Leaf-blower specific safety guidelines should reflect the weight and power of the device in accordance to the user’s physical limitations. Additional guidelines arise when dealing with walk-behind blowers and blower vacs.
Remember, that the aforementioned tips are those which we find most crucial for you and your safety. Always consult your own user manual and prioritize guidelines therein above ours.