As the weather warms up each spring, you’ll probably want to get outside and start doing yard maintenance – and that includes mowing your lawn. Whether you’re a seasoned mower or new to it, it’s important to understand and practice lawn mower safety to avoid an injury when cutting the grass.
Below, we’ll go over tips to use push lawn mowers, self-propelled mowers and riding mowers safely. We’ll also cover when it’s recommended for your child to operate a mower and types of lawn mower accidents that can happen.
Tips to help you use a lawn mower safely
Each year, more than 80,000 people are injured in lawn mower-related incidents, and in many cases those injuries could have been prevented. Dr. Peter Cole, Chief of Orthopedics at Regions Hospital, believes lawn mower safety is a big educational opportunity for people of all ages.
Since Regions Hospital is a certified Level 1 Adult and Pediatric Trauma Center, “we see lawn mower injuries every summer,” Dr. Cole said. “For me, they are the saddest cases because … often it’s a dad who is operating the lawnmower and I can identify with that.”
Lawn mower injuries can happen to people of all ages. It sounds scary, but if you use your lawn mower safely and properly, you should have nothing to worry about. So, how can you safely mow your lawn?
1. Read the owner’s manual
The owner’s manual for your mower will show you step-by-step instructions on how to assemble your push or self-propelled mower, if it didn’t come already assembled. It also includes a diagram of the different parts of a lawn mower to help you make sure that all parts are there and assembled correctly. If parts are missing, improperly assembled or damaged, don’t use the mower and instead bring it in for repair.
Manuals may also include information about how much gas (if it’s gas powered) and oil your mower needs, how to properly start and operate your mower, how to adjust your mower’s cutting height, maintainence tips and how to store it when not using it.
But the most important part of the manual is the safety information. From getting ready to mow to operating and stopping your mower, there are a lot of precautions to take – and it helps to become familiar with what those are.
2. Pick up sticks, rocks and other yard debris before cutting the grass
Lawn mowers can quickly turn a loose item into a dangerous projectile, so it’s important to comb your yard and remove any larger stones, sticks, twigs, lawn ornaments, toys and other things that may be in your way once you start mowing. And if you see something that needs to be picked up while mowing, turn off your mower and clear it out of the way so you don’t forget.
3. Dress properly when mowing
It’s best to wear clothes that fit you closely, as loose-fitting clothes can get caught while mowing. For example, if your pants get caught in a moving part, it can pull your leg and cause an injury.
Since the weather is typically warm when you mow, it’s tempting to wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts. But in case of flying debris, it’s best to wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
Proper footwear is important, especially when using a push or self-propelled lawn mower, as your feet are closer to the blades than with a riding mower. Close-toed, sturdy shoes with thick material like leather are best. Choose work boots over tennis shoes and tennis shoes over sandals, flip-flops and open-toed shoes.
It could be helpful to wear protective eyewear, like safety glasses or goggles, just in case you missed some debris. Ear protection may be beneficial, too. The average gas-powered push/self-propelled and riding lawn mower can run at approximately 80-100 decibels (dB), and any sound over 85 dB has the potential to damage your hearing. So wearing noise-reducing or noise-cancelling earbuds or earmuffs is important to protect your hearing.
4. Mow in the right conditions
It’s best to wait to mow until it’s a dry day with enough daylight that you can see what you’re doing. Try to mow late morning after your grass has dried, and don’t mow when it’s too hot out to avoid heatstroke.
Also, don’t mow during bad weather, like during a thunderstorm, and make sure your grass isn’t wet when you mow it – wet grass can clump and clog your mower, and you run the risk of slipping and falling.
5. Learn about mower safety and children
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), nearly 5,000 children are treated for injuries caused by lawn mowers every year, so ensure children (and adults and pets) are not nearby when you mow.
Lawn mower injuries tend to spike in two age groups, from 2-4 years old and 13-15 years old. Injuries can occur in younger children when a child gets into the path of the mower, when they are struck by debris, or when they touch hot metal, causing a burn. And in some of the most severe cases, a small child can get too close to the machine causing them to get sucked into the blade path.
For older children, injuries are more likely to occur while cutting lawns as one of their chores or as a way to make extra money.
When is my child ready to mow the lawn?
That question depends on a lot of variables including your child’s maturity, judgment, strength and coordination. But the American Academy of Pediatrics has these recommendations:
- Children under 12 should stay away from lawn mowers altogether
- Kids should be 12 or older to operate a walk-behind mower, including a self-propelled mower
- Teens should be 16 or older to operate a riding mower
- Stay away from your lawn mower blades if they’re moving. If you need to unclog something, look at the blades, or do anything that puts your body near the blades, turn your mower off to avoid serious injury.
- Try not to reverse or pull your lawn mower back toward you. A push or self-propelled lawn mower is meant to go forward. If you slip, the mower could end up on top of you, causing an injury.
- When you need to remove your mower blade to sharpen it on your gas-powered lawn mower, remove the spark plug first. This prevents your mower from accidentally kick-starting, which can lead to serious injury. Your owner’s manual should tell you where the spark plug is and how to remove it.
- If you’re mowing on a hill, make sure you mow side to side with a push or self-propelled mower. That way if you slip, you likely won’t fall toward the mower or have the mower tip over onto you.
- Before you cut your grass, don’t consume alcohol or other substances. Lawn mowers require your full attention, and if you’re impaired in any way, there could be serious consequences.
Tips to operate a riding lawn mower safely
All of the previous tips that apply to push and self-propelled lawn mowers apply to riding lawn mowers, but riding lawn mowers come with some extra safety precautions:
- Make sure you’re wearing adequate ear protection when using a riding mower, as the average gas-powered riding lawn mower can reach over 90 dB.
- Use caution when you’re mowing around an area with water or an area with a drop-off. Establish a boundary to avoid tipping over drop-offs like retaining walls or ditches, and ensure you’re staying on firm terrain when mowing around bodies of water.
- If you have to mow on a hill or a slope, mow up and down the hill, as riding lawn mowers are more likely to tip over sideways, not forward or backward. Also, don’t stop, start, shift or turn on a slope to avoid tipping your mower.
- Decrease your mower’s speed when turning corners or mowing downhill to avoid a rollover.
- Take the key out of the ignition when you’re not using your mower to prevent unauthorized riders or theft.
- Use your mower’s safety belt, only start your mower when you’re securely in the driver’s seat, and don’t get off of the mower while it’s running to avoid injury to your feet.
- Make sure you’re the only one in the driver’s seat. Don’t let children or anyone else sit on your lap when mowing.
Types of lawn mower injuries
Lawn mower injuries can happen to kids and adults alike. Injuries include:
- Burns – The gas tank, engine and exhaust of a gas-powered mower can get extremely hot and cause burns to any part of the body that comes into contact with them.
- Cuts – Lawn mowers have extremely sharp blades, and those blades can cause anywhere from superficial cuts on your skin to deeper cuts through your muscles or bone. Cuts can happen anywhere on your body, but are more likely to occur to your hands and feet.
- Broken bones – Mower blades can cause broken bones, and the most common type of fracture that happens with lawn mower injuries are open fractures, where the skin over the broken bone is torn. In addition to the broken bone, it can cause injury to the surrounding tendons, ligaments and muscles, making treatment and recovery more difficult than with a closed fracture, where the skin isn’t cut.
- Severed limbs or digits – Mower blades are very sharp and move fast. Getting in the way of them could cause an amputation of a finger, toe, arm, hand or foot.
When to seek treatment for lawn mower-related injuries
Many lawn mower-related injuries for both adults and children, like burns or cuts, can be treated at home. But more serious injuries, like broken bones or deep cuts, require immediate, emergency medical attention. If you or your child has a serious lawn mower-related injury, call 911.
It’s also important to know where your nearest level 1 trauma center is, as they can treat the most complex injuries. Regions Hospital in St. Paul is home to the only east Twin Cities area Level 1 Trauma Center that can provide you and your family with the highest level of care possible.