- Jennifer Middleton, MD, MPH
Although lawn mowers don't seem to get a lot of press, over 80,000 persons in the United States are injured by them every year; children under the age of 19 make up a substantial minority of these injuries (estimates range from 4,000 to 13,000 children per year). Most injuries are lacerations or burns, but some lead to serious skin infections, and some are severe enough to require limb amputation. Lawn mower injuries are largely preventable with some simple safety measures. With spring weather upon us in the U.S., it's worth discussing lawn mower safety with patients, especially parents of young children and teens.
Young children (ages 1-3 years) and adolescents are the most likely youth to be injured by a lawn mower; young children are more likely to be accidentally struck when a lawn mower is put into reverse or hit by objects discharged into the air by a lawn mower in use, such as sticks, stones, or toys; teenagers are less likely to follow standard safety measures when operating a lawn mower themselves. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons advises parents to forbid children from playing on a lawn as it is being mowed; they also discourage children from riding on riding lawn mowers with adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be at least 12 years of age before independently operating a push lawn mower and 16 years of age before using a riding lawn mower. Checking and clearing the lawn of debris prior to mowing, ensuring that children are playing elsewhere while mowing, and wearing closed-toed shoes, hearing protection, and eye protection are crucial safety actions for all operators of lawn mowers.
Adults sustain the largest numbers of injuries, however, and need to follow appropriate safety measures for themselves as well. The American Society for the Surgery of the Hand advises keeping blades in good condition and avoiding alcohol prior to or during mowing. They also discourage putting hands or feet into the mower to clear debris, lifting the mower from the bottom, and tampering with safety devices and guards. The mower's engine should be turned off, and the blades should stop moving, before crossing a gravel path, removing the grass catcher, or walking away from the mower.
With these simple safety steps, mowing the lawn can be an enjoyable and healthy activity. Pushing a lawn mower is beneficial aerobic exercise, which qualifies as an activity requiring at least 4 METs of functional capacity. Certainly many homeowners enjoy the calm rhythm of lawn mowing, too. You can find more safety tips for spring and summer activities in this 2018 post by Dr. Lin and a previous AFP article on prevention of unintended childhood injury.