How to mow on slopes safely

Updated Jan 13, 2015

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A typical day of mowing could turn deadly at one wrong turn

The accident: A 43-year-old temporary service worker is part of a five-person crew performing maintenance at an interstate highway rest stop. The worker begins to mow along a bank bordering one of the rest stop’s parking lots. A 15-foot-high bank with a 35-degree slope is on one side of the parking lot. The worker is instructed by the crew leader to mow across the bank and only half way up due to the steep slope. The worker is instructed to use a weed eater to finish cutting the grass the rest of the way up the bank. Another crewmember is outside helping clean up and informs the worker he is going to go inside for a break. The crewmember returns 30 minutes later to find the mower overturned, with the worker pinned underneath. The crewmember summons the rest of the crew to help lift the mower off the worker and calls the Emergency Medical Service (EMS). The worker dies from massive head and chest trauma.

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The bottom line: Crewmembers should not be mowing on slopes more than 15 degrees. The mower should always be operated across slopes, never up and down a slope. Additionally, the worker should not have been left alone while mowing a steep embankment.

Tips for mowing on slopes:

  • Make sure riding mowers are equipped with a roll over protection system (ROPS)
  • Always wear a seat belt
  • Do not operate mowers on slopes that exceed the angle limits specified by the OEM
  • If instructions are not available, evaluate the terrain and slope conditions to ensure the mower is operated safely
  • Avoid mowing on slopes with an angle of more than 15 degrees
  • Use a slope indicator, also known as a clinometer or inclinometer
  • Don’t leave workers unsupervised in potentially dangerous conditions

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