Mowing SafetyLate June marks the official start of summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, and you’re probably taking note of the effects the spring weather has played on the vegetation growth by the tall wavering stalks of various plants, grass, and weeds lined throughout the roadside ditches. For others, like myself, it’s become the new daily view looking through your home office window during these interesting times the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to us.

Since roadside ditches are known to serve a variety of purposes from collecting and routing surface water to preventing water from reaching the roadways, they do require a bit of maintenance to remain effective as possible. This type of maintenance can be easily handled by a variety of implements, including rotary mowers, folding wing rotary mowers, boom mowers, and sickle bar mowers. However, whether the operator is a seasoned veteran or a first-timer, safety should be the top priority when planning to tackle the job.

Photo Credit: Land Pride

Operator Safety Manuals

Fortunately, AEM members represent a great deal of experts in various industry sectors and, as AEM members, you have access to joining the well-established Industrial and Agricultural Mower Technical Committee (IAMTC). It’s comprised of some of the best minds in the industry when it comes to the subject of product and operator safety of roadside mowers and its continuing development and advocacy. It provides a medium for manufacturers to converse and discuss relevant issues regarding these products that will ultimately help progress safety throughout the industry as a whole.

However, taking this knowledge and making sure it gets in the hands of the operator is oftentimes not as easy as it sounds unless equipped with the right tools. The IAMTC members are responsible for the content development that is captured and maintained within the AEM – Industrial and Agricultural Mower Safety Manual. This AEM Manual is not designed to be a replacement for the OEM’s operator's manual, but rather a supplemental document that provides consensus content that strengthens the message of safe product manufacturing and operation. When these two manuals are used in conjunction with one another, dealers, sales reps, and rental companies can be equipped with some of the best tools available to communicate and transfer the undeniably-important message of operator safety and best practices to the end-users and operators. Both manuals address a number of safety-related issues and hazards that are equally important and should not be overlooked, including those such as Thrown Objects, Driveshaft Entanglement, Uneven Terrain, Overhead Obstructions, Mechanical Hazards, Safe Maintenance, Visibility, and more. 

Yet, moving the message of safety from manufacturer to operator shouldn't just stop at these manuals. Continually conversing about best safety practices is highly encouraged and is a great way of keeping the message alive, and members of the AEM-IAMTC are excellent exemplars of this. When approached to share some quick thoughts on the topic of roadside mowing safety and best practices (and what kind of information is found within these manuals), it wasn’t difficult to get them to speak up. Let's take a brief look at what a few of them had to say.

Safety Conversations With AEM Members

As Engineering Manager for Land Pride, a division of Great Plains Manufacturing, Inc., Jeff Welsh understands the safety measures that need to be taken when maintaining roadside ditches.

When mowing roadsides, a couple safety risks the operator needs to be aware of are distracted drivers on the road and thrown objects discharged from the cutter,” noted Welsh. “Roadsides often contain a variety of foreign debris such as tires, mufflers, trash, etc. When mowing roadsides and impacting foreign debris, rotary cutters can discharge objects toward oncoming traffic or even the operator. It is best practice to remove the foreign debris before mowing. In addition to removing debris, Land Pride recommends double row chain guards on the rotary cutter to help minimize thrown objects from the cutter.”

The importance of keeping a high profile of visibility is also essential when conducing roadside/ROW (right-of-way) ditch maintenance due to the greater volume of vehicle traffic and pedestrians you are likely to encounter compared to other mowing scenarios. From the manufacturer’s side, “The recently approved ASABE lighting and marking standard requires lights to be installed on large rotary cutters by the manufacturer,” noted Welsh. “For roadside mowing and transporting on roadways, the lights on the tractor and rotary cutter should be maintained in good working order. Increasing visibility when mowing will help get the attention of distracted drivers.”

Also, depending on the landscape of the ditch, the tractor or other type of vehicle being utilized may not always be able to maintain its course on level ground and may be subject to operating on uneven or hilly terrain. In operating circumstances like this, Brett Cohen, VP of Technical Affairs and Safety at Alamo Group (USA) Inc., noted:

“Additional safety measures must also be carefully followed when mowing around ditches. To avoid overturns, drive the tractor with care and at safe speeds, especially when operating over rough ground, crossing ditches or slopes, and turning corners. Rear tractor tire spacing should be increased when working on inclines or rough ground to reduce the possibility of tipping.  Use extreme caution when operating on steep slopes. Keep the tractor in a low gear when going downhill.  DO NOT coast or free-wheel downhill. When crossing ditches and steep inclines, do not approach from an angle which is perpendicular or straight on. Damage due to the over-collapse of the driveline’s inner profile and outer housing may occur and cause the driveline to become loose, resulting in bodily injury to the operator and bystanders and extensive damage to the tractor and implement. To reduce the possibility of over-collapse of the driveline, approach along a line which is at an angle as shown in the implement’s operator’s manual. If the slope is so steep that it increases the possibility of a tractor rollover, select another crossing path. It is also important to maintain sufficient deck to ground clearance. Blade contact with the ground may cause soil, rocks and other debris to be thrown out from under the mower, resulting in possible injury and/or property damage. Ground contact also produces a severe shock load on the mower drive and to the mower blades, which can result in possible damage and premature wear and cause death or serious injury to the operator and bystanders.”

Takeaway Messages

Safety should never be taken for granted, and its message should never stop being shared. AEM members can continually push its importance through the use of their individual owner’s manuals complimented by the appropriate AEM Safety Manual. Whether communicating this through manufacturer representatives, dealers, or elsewise, these materials help put best practice safety guidance directly in to the hands of the equipment operators. 

If you are not already participating in the AEM – Industrial and Agricultural Mower Technical Committee or would like to learn more, we encourage you to do so.  From manufacturer to manufacturer, equipment design is ever-changing and each product may be unique in its own way. Working together with a group of industry experts that share a common goal (safety) is one of the best ways to stay on top of the continually developing safety culture and to create the valuable tools and resources that ultimately help prevent accidents from occurring in the field.

For More Information

AEM supports safety awareness year-round by offering an extensive array of safety products, including safety manuals and videos, with major equipment types covering agricultural, construction, forestry, mining and utility equipment.

Click here to see the complete line of AEM safety materials, including the Industrial & Agricultural Mower Safety Manual, or visit

Note: The AEM Industrial & Agricultural Mower Safety Manual is currently undergoing a periodic review by the AEM Industrial and Agricultural Mower Technical Committee. If any AEM members are interested in participating or have questions, please contact AEM Technical Manager - Tech and Safety Services Travis Webb at

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