Safety: Keep preventive maintenance a priority

October 21, 2019 -  By
Work tools (Photo:


As the mowing season winds down in a large part of the U.S., there is a tendency to delay or eliminate preventive maintenance (PM). Those all-important and expensive pieces of equipment that have carried us through the season get short changed and don’t get the attention they need when fall rolls around.

When preventive maintenance is implemented as part of a firm’s standard operating procedures (SOPs), machinery and equipment last longer, your investment in the equipment goes further and your employees work in a safer environment.

The major purposes for conducting an active and aggressive preventive maintenance program are:

  • Using equipment and machinery at the job site that is safe for the operator and safe when fellow crew members and bystanders are present.
  • Maintaining equipment in operating condition to minimize the chance for critical field breakdowns.
  • Reducing costly crew downtime associated with malfunctioning or broken equipment.
  • Expanding and enhancing the value of the significant investment associated with your landscape maintenance equipment.

What are some of the most common equipment malfunctions or unsafe modifications that a well-organized PM program will find and correct to make the job site safer?

  1. Lack of properly installed or positioned mower deck deflector shields is a major contributor to violations of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration machine guarding standard. Since debris can be expelled from under the mower deck at close to 200 miles per hour, this creates a hazardous condition for fellow crew members and other persons near the work site. Damaged, missing or modified deflector shields must be replaced or restored to their designed and engineered position before the machine is used.
  2. Because some equipment operators are often looking for short cuts to speed up their work, bypassing safeguards like operator seat presence switches are common — and dangerous. If your equipment maintenance personnel find that a bypass or switch disconnect has been done, they should let management know and correct the problem immediately.
  3. Excess tire wear is another problem identified during a PM procedure. It may create hazardous operating conditions and can severely impact traction when mowing slopes, especially if they are wet from morning dew or just after rainfall.
  4. Old, damaged or missing mufflers can be a major contributor to excess noise on landscape maintenance work sites. Exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels from mowers, chain saws, leaf blowers and chippers will be apparent during PM activities in the shop.
  5. Machine noise level checks during PM should be included in your hearing conservation program along with the proper use of hearing protection.

So, let’s look at some preventive maintenance steps you may already be (or should be) using.

  • Unique identification or inventory numbers assigned to all equipment;
  • Regularly scheduled lubrication and oil changes;
  • A check-off system to ensure all power equipment is regularly scheduled for PM;
  • Daily cleaning of equipment at the end of the workday;
  • Reliable reporting system for problematic equipment and components;
  • Timely and scheduled adjustments to the equipment’s attachments and components;
  • Immediate replacement of worn, damaged or missing parts; and
  • Reliable method for placing equipment out-of-service when major repairs are needed.

Preventive maintenance is a cost-saving program that will protect your investment in efficiently operating equipment, tools and machinery. It also protects the health and safety of your most valuable asset: your employees.

Sam Steel, Ed.D., is Safety Advisor, National Association of Landscape Professionals. Reach him at

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