Handheld Equipment

Safety considerations associated with handheld landscaping equipment are numerous, including personal protective equipment, ergonomics, electrical safety, fuel-handling safety, proper equipment guarding and maintenance, correct application and workers’ awareness of their surroundings.

Failure to operate equipment safety can result in cuts, lacerations and punctures which OSHA cites as the second leading injury type in the landscape and horticultural industry. Proper safety training is necessary to reduce the risk of injury.

The checklist, dos and don’ts and resources below can help managers and crew members significantly reduce injury risks.

Checklist for Supervisors

  • Follow the rules. Federal OSHA Standards 1926.302, 1910.242 and 1926.300-305 and ANSI Z133 contain regulations and guidelines regarding power-operated hand tools. Find the OSHA standards by doing a search for their numbers at osha.gov. At least 24 states have OSHA-approved state plans with their own standards and enforcement policies. Check with your state and local agencies to learn what additional rules might apply.

  • Enforce PPE use. Provide workers with and/or ensure they wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for each hand tool they use. This could include safety glasses, goggles or face shields, steel-toed boots, hard hats, abrasion-resistant and/or anti-vibration gloves, chain-saw chaps, hearing protection, respiratory protection and more. (TIP: Create cards listing PPE crew members are required to wear when using specific tools and make sure they have easy access to this information.)

  • Train crew members in the proper use of all tools. They should know how to choose the right tool for the job, be able to recognize hazards associated with different tools and know the necessary safety precautions to take. Make the manufacturers’ operating instructions for each tool available to employees.

  • Protect employees from electrical shock. Ensure power tools have a three-wire cord with a ground and are plugged into a grounded receptacle, are double insulated or are powered by a low-voltage isolation transformer.

  • Be sure tools are equipped with necessary safety guards and switches.
    • Exposed moving parts of power tools, including belts, gears, shafts, pulleys, sprockets, drums, flywheels, chains, and other reciprocating or rotating parts, must be guarded. Portable circular saws with blades larger than 2 inches in diameter must be equipped with an upper guard that covers the entire blade. A retractable lower guard should cover the teeth of the saw, except where it makes contact with the work material. This guard should automatically return to the covering position when removed from the work surface.

    • -Make sure the following tools are equipped with a constant-pressure switch or control that turns off power when pressure is released: drills; grinders with wheels more than 2 inches in diameter; chain saws; tappers; fastener drivers; reciprocating saws; saber saws, scroll saws and jigsaws with blade shanks greater than ¼ inch wide; and similar tools. These tools also can be equipped with a “lock-on” control if it allows the worker to shut off the control in a single motion using the same finger or fingers.

  • Keep ergonomics in mind when purchasing tools. Choose those that fit the hand comfortably, have soft grips and are as lightweight as possible. Avoid buying tools that cause employees to work in awkward positions or with unnecessary strain on their wrists, arms, shoulders or back.

  • Inspect and maintain tools regularly. Allow crew members to use equipment only if it is in good condition.

  • Know when to upgrade. Consider phasing out older equipment and replacing it with ergonomically friendly versions now on the market. Many chain saws, line trimmers, brush cutters, shears and blowers include anti-vibration systems and are ergonomically designed to reduce fatigue and the likelihood of chronic medical problems. Many new tools also are quieter, lighter and emit less pollution.

  • Be safe around electricity. When employees use pole pruners, make sure they maintain OSHA-established minimum working distances from energized electric lines and conductors as established by 29 CFR 1910.268(q)(2)(iv). When work must be performed within the electric-line minimum distances set by OSHA, notify the utility company. The company will work with you to determine the best option for protecting workers.

  • Rotate crew members among different tasks. This will lessen the likelihood of ergonomics injuries.

  • Know that any injuries can be avoided. with proper maintenance and storage of pruning tools. Dull, sticky tools can lead to cuts and other injuries

  • Provide a clean, dry place for storing tools.


Dos and Dont's


  • Use the right tool for the job. If you are unsure which piece of equipment would be best, ask your crew leader.

  • Wear your PPE. Know what personal protective equipment your company requires for each tool you use and wear it.

  • Manage the work space.

    • Keep pets, customers and other people not involved in the work at a safe distance from the area. Do not use line trimmers or leaf blowers within 50 feet of people or pets. Direct tools away from other employees working in close proximity.

    • Make sure work areas are well-lighted and the floor or ground as clean and dry as possible to prevent slips or trips with or around tools.

    • Ensure cords from electric tools don’t present a tripping hazard. Also keep them away from heat, oil, sharp edges and cutting surfaces of power saws or drills.

  • Operate tools safely. Follow manufacturers’ and your employer’s guidelines.

  • Keep blades sharpened. Dull tools are more hazardous than sharp ones because they require excessive pressure.

  • Maintain good footing and balance. Wearing sturdy work boots can help with this.

  • Be careful with fuel. Transport and store fuel for power tools only in approved flammable liquid containers. Do not refuel equipment with the engine running or before it has cooled. Fuel vapors can ignite when exposed to a hot engine

  • Stay alert. Be aware of your surroundings and the position of hand tools in relation to your body.

    • Be careful not to relax your arms in a way that brings cutting edges of shears, trimmers, chain saws or other tools in contact with your legs.

    • Grip tools firmly and securely so they do not slip.

    • As with any sharp tool, cut away from yourself.

    • Know the location of your hands and fingers before making a cut.

    • Let the cutting surface do the work. When extra effort is needed to make the cut, sharpen or adjust blades.

    • Give an audible warning, such as “timber,” before a branch falls.

  • Remember to unplug. Disconnect tools when you aren’t using them, before servicing them and when changing accessories such as blades or bits.


  • Begin using a tool before you’ve been trained. You must fully understand the training, which should include information about safety precautions and potential hazards.

  • Use a damaged or improperly operating tool. Examine each tool before use and report problems to a supervisor. Remove all damaged tools from use and tag them, “Do Not Use.”

  • Handle power tools carelessly.

    • Never carry a tool by the cord or yank the cord to disconnect it from a receptacle.

    • Be sure not to place your fingers on the switch button while carrying a powered tool.

    • Don’t carry pruning tools with sharp ends pointed up.

  • Use power tools in damp or wet locations. This is okay only with tools that are approved for use in such conditions.

  • Compromise equipment safety.

    • Never remove safety guards or override any safety controls or switches.

    • Don’t use an adapter or other means to plug a three-pronged cord into a two-hole receptacle. The third prong is a grounding conductor that protects you from electric shock.

  • Ignore ergonomics.

    • If a tool is equipped with a shoulder strap, adjust the strap to the best fit for you and wear it. Also wear anti-vibration gloves when appropriate.

    • Stretch during scheduled breaks and also take micro-breaks — 20- to 30-second pauses in which you stop performing tasks and stretch. Do this about every 15 minutes, especially if your task is repetitive.

    • Practice neutral posture, which is the body’s natural stance. When you stand in neutral posture, a straight line could be drawn from your ear through your shoulder, hip, knee and ankle.

    • Carry only essential tools in a tool belt. While using a tool belt is helpful, wearing one that is too heavy could strain your lower back and hips.

  • Leave tools in dangerous places. Equipment on overhead surfaces could fall on someone, and tools on the ground or floor could be tripping hazards.