A Surgeon’s PSA for Lawn Mower Safety

As a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, I feel compelled to write a public service announcement (PSA) for lawn mower safety. Here’s why: I will never forget the first time I saw the consequences of a child’s injury from a lawn mowing accident. My heart broke for the child and her family. The child lost her toes and the mother, who accidentally ran over them, was overcome with guilt that she may bear the rest of her life.

If that had been the only lawnmower injury I witnessed, I might not be as driven to write a PSA about prevention and safety measures.

But we inevitably see this type of injury a few times a year at Cincinnati Children’s alone.

Because no one ever thinks it can happen to them. No one intends to make a tragic mistake. And certainly the parents never imagined it would happen to their families.

The majority of the time, it happens like this. A parent or grandparent is mowing the lawn. The child, usually around age 4, either falls off the mower or is run over while playing in the same yard. While we see children of all ages with lawnmower injuries, this is the most common age. Typically older children know how to protect themselves and get out of the way. It’s the younger ones that need extra supervision and forethought.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 17,000 children under the age of 19 were injured by lawnmowers in 2010.

After an initial visit in the Emergency Department, I will see these patients in orthopedics to determine what else can be done to help the injured area function again. I see lawnmower injuries ranging from fractures to amputations.

One of the more complicated injuries I treated was on a girl who lost a section of the bone in the middle of her foot and inner ankle. She needed treatment from plastic surgery as well as reconstructive orthopedic surgery. This included a bone graft, pins, and a metal plate. The resulting surgeries allowed her to walk in normal shoes again. While we were able to help this little girl get back to a relatively normal way of life, this is not always the case for these types of accidents.

While the number of lawnmower accidents that happen are relatively small, the severity of the injuries are often catastrophic. The good news is that the majority of them can be prevented with a few safety measures. Here are some tips to help keep your loved ones safe:

Lawn Mowing Safety Tips

Appropriate ages for types of mowing:

  • Kids under the age of 15 should never be in the yard when someone else is mowing
  • Children younger than 12 should not use walk-behind mowers
  • Children younger than 16 should not be allowed to use ride-on mowers
  • Neither children nor adults should ride as a passenger on a ride-on mower

Lawn mower safety features:

  • In reverse, the blade should disengage
  • When handle is released, the mower stops
  • When driver leaves operating position, a ride-on mower disconnects the blade from the power source

Operating the mower:

  • Do not mow in reverse unless absolutely necessary, and look behind you when you do
  • Turn off mower and wait for blades to stop completely before removing the grass catcher, unclogging the discharge chute, or crossing gravel paths
  • Wear hard-soled shoes (no sandals or sneakers), hearing and eye protection
  • Pick up objects from lawn, such as stones and toys, to prevent injuries from flying objects

Please share this post with your fellow parents and grandparents. The extra vigilance and awareness could help prevent another catastrophic injury from occurring.

 

Junichi Tamai, MD

About the Author: Junichi Tamai, MD

Junichi Tamai, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon at Cincinnati Children’s. His clinical interests include Legg-Calve-Perthes, pediatric and adolescent hip disorders including hip dysplasia; pediatric foot disorders including clubfeet; and pediatric fractures and trauma.

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Comments

  1. Jean Harrington May 28, 17:38
    Great, timely PSA post!
  2. Karla Johnson May 29, 15:32
    Thank you Dr. Tamai. It always breaks my heart to see these little ones with such horrible injuries!!
  3. Smith Eddison June 07, 03:43
    Nice post on lawn mower safety.Thanks for sharing it...
  4. Cindee weber April 21, 18:14
    Thank you for sharing this information. Our grandson is almost 13, wants to help us. We walk with him when using our self propelled lawn mower. It has all the safety features, but I'm still cautious. Must stop pulling mower backwards. Don't want him to be doing that and fall. Thank you again. Cindee Volunteer at Liberty.
  5. Samantha Eddington May 02, 13:02
    While I appreciate the PSA, I would err on the side of caution with using words such as "careless" and "preventable". My daughter was backed over by a mower a little over a year ago. While I do realize this to be a horrible accident, using the word careless does not apply. Only people whom have not lived these tragedies use such words. "Preventable". Can all accidents be prevented? I never see this term used in regards to so many other accidents that happen. Yes, we can decrease the number of accidents with these PSA's for sure. But why not do some for seat belts, sharp knives, or other things that you KNOW how to do safely, but still have these accidents. I am a nurse. My husband is an excellent father. We are not "careless".
    • Kim Moore June 23, 23:10
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  6. Virginia Davis June 24, 16:32
    Thanks for the information. A few years ago, I met a guy who had lost a finger as child because he hadn't been safe around a lawn mower. I agree that children and pets should not be nearby when someone is using outdoor power equipment. Your tip about clearing the area to be mowed is also really great as well. I've mowed over sticks without noticing and gotten scratches on my legs as a result.
  7. Rex July 01, 12:19
    A friend of mine was killed because there was no shut off when the person left the seat. He was on a hill and hit a yellow jacket nest. He jumped off and the mower rolled on top of him blade first. If there had been a shut off on the seat back then he would still be alive today. Make sure when you buy a new mower it has all the safety features. Never disable any of them!
  8. John Brooks August 24, 21:29
    Your PSA is appreciated. I have read similar PSA's spanning decades. Sadly they have not had much of an impact. So, for the last 4 years I have been posting stories about lawn mower and similar machinery accidents on Facebook. I run a page called "Lawn Mower Accident Support and Prevention." Additionally I help guide families who've experienced an "LMA" to a closed support group of 400 families who are recovering from one. Members in the group are from the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, South Africa, and Australia. They cover different generations and some have lost children in one of these accidents. The group is a tremendous resource of insight and hope for new LMA families. Having observed that awareness campaigns, medical studies, manufacturers literature and safety features have never been effective at slowing the accident trend, I invented a wireless safety device that automatically shuts off potentially dangerous equipment when an unobserved bystander, child, or pet gets too close. It can be affixed to virtually any power equipment aftermarket. I believe this is the future for having a true ability to teach children about the dangers around them without catastrophic injury risk. I hope to not read another PSA in a decade. It's about time this problem was solved for the sake of all children and families who have and will experience it.