Cutting the Lawn: Don’t Become an Injury Statistic

For most people, mowing the lawn is either a chore or a relaxing time to work outdoors. For about 70,000 people this year, mowing the lawn will turn into a brush with death or serious injury. The statistics, from the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, are harrowing: Each year 800 children are run over by riding mowers or small tractors; 75 people are killed, and 20,000 injured; one in five deaths involves a child.

Let’s face it, lawnmowers are dangerous tools, but they are so common that people may not treat them seriously. Underneath the mower deck is a steel cutting blade spinning at more than 2000 revolutions per minute. Depending on its length, the blade tip may be moving at 200 mph.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, a moving lawn mower blade is powerful. “The energy transferred by a typical lawn mower blade is equivalent to being shot in the hand with a .357 magnum pistol.” That is certainly enough to mangle a hand or foot. And an injury from lawn mower blade is not neat. The blade does not make a “clean” cut, and it fills the wound with dirt, grass, and a host of other contaminants.

An injury from contacting the blade is not the only danger from a running mower. The blade speed can turn rocks, stick, or other debris into deadly projectiles. And don’t forget, the mower engine itself gets hot enough to ignite gasoline or cause third-degree burns, the most serious kind. For riding mowers, other dangers include tipping the mower over on a hill, losing control of the mower, or accidentally backing over an object or person.

To stay safe, follow a few tips when using a mower. First, make sure your mower is in good condition. Look it over before each use; when something breaks, have it repaired. A poorly running mower may lead the operator to take unnecessary risks.

Never run the mower without its safety equipment. Most walk-behind mowers come with a dead-man switch, which shuts the mower off and applies a blade brake when the operator releases the handle. Don’t remove this switch or tie it down. Mowers also come with a guard on the discharge chute. This guard, usually plastic, directs the mower discharge down into the ground. When the mower strikes a rock, the chute can keep it from breaking a window or striking a person. If the chute clogs while you are mowing, shut the mower off and use a stick to clear it. Then, raise the mower deck or wait until the grass dries out before continuing. Never tie the chute up. If you need to fill up the gas tank, shut off the mower and let it cool before filling the tank. Take a break and get some water before filling; if you’ve run the tank dry, you’ll need it.

Dress appropriately. Don’t mow barefoot or in flip-flops. Wear good shoes that provide traction, safety glasses, and close fitting clothes that can’t be caught in a gear or engine.

Before you mow, check the lawn for loose objects that could turn into a projectile if struck. When mowing a slope with a riding mower, mow up and down the slope to prevent tipping over. If you are using a walk-behind, mow across the slope to avoid slipping under the mower.

Look out for others, especially children. Make sure children, pets, and others are a safe distance from the mower. Children can unexpectedly dart into the mowing path or fail to move when the mower is backing up toward them.

Never, ever allow children to ride as passengers on a riding mower or garden tractor. Hundreds of children each year are run over, have a hand, arm, foot, or leg amputated, or are killed riding as passengers on a riding mower.

And, speaking of children, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children be at least 12 years-old before they are allowed to use a walk-behind mower and 16 before operating a riding mower.


Dr. Matthew Nofziger, is an orthopedic at SVMC Orthopedics on Dewey Street. Nofziger is board certified and has special interest in sports injuries. To learn more about SVMC visit “Health Matters” is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.