Parkway mowing starts anewMowing-related death prompted safety review
Grass and weeds will remain overgrown in spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway as staff continue to evaluate mowing procedures following the death May 7 of seasonal maintenance employee Dana Bruce, 63, at Haw Creek Valley overlook.
"We've resumed mowing, but we're not using all our equipment," said Parkway superintendent Phil Francis. "Visibility is slightly limited in some areas, but we are mowing."
Dana Bruce was on a zero-turn riding lawnmower when it tumbled down a 100-foot embankment. Immediately after the accident, dozens of the same type mower were pulled from use.
"We aren't using zero-turn mowers now. It may be determined that they aren't suitable for use here," Francis said. "We've already revised our mowing plan. One of the things we're requiring is for two tires of a tractor to be on the pavement at all times. We're using more string-trimmers."
The Blue Ridge Parkway is part of the U. S. National Park Service. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration investigates work-place accidents and deaths including those involving federal employees. OSHA's investigation is welcome, said Francis. The agency has up to six months to file its findings, but Francis said he didn't think it would take that long.
"The NPS also sent in an investigation team, and we're grateful for that," he continued. "We want to make sure we're doing everything we can to prevent accidents. We are so very sorry that this happened and we want to greatly lessen any chance of another."
The Parkway staff is completing a risk assessment to identify high-hazard areas for mowing.
Francis said he'd like to see folks go slow and enjoy the scenery.
"There are a lot of different users on the Parkway — cars, motorcycles, hikers, bicycles, horseback riders. There are a lot of distractions and people need to pay attention," he said. "All the Parkway is open. Attendance is up 10 percent over last year and we invite everybody to come out and enjoy the Parkway in a safe way. It's not a place to be in a hurry."