Cutting the grass

Burns projectiles, amputations. It’s not a war zone–it’s your lawnmower. In the US, 80,000 people are injured by lawnmowers each year.  As you can imagine, summer is the prime season for accidents and lawnmower accidents are one of  the most common summer accidents.

I asked friends for their lawnmower horror stories and they were pretty gruesome.

“There was an old man in my hometown who was mowing the ditch that had standing water at the bottom. The rider mower tipped over and he tumbled to the bottom and the mower got on top of him. He drowned there.”

“My husband had a guy who worked for him who tripped while mowing with a push mower. Instead of letting go of the mower handle so the mower would stop, he pulled the mower backward in an effort to keep his balance. He pulled the mower over his foot and lost part of his foot. He was off work for quite a long time but, eventually came back. He still limps.”

“My uncle was push mower cutting our family plot at the cemetery. He was backing up & fell over a tombstone. The mower came back over his foot & cut off his big toe. He found a bag to put his foot into to contain the blood. The toe did not survive.”

Most lawnmower accidents involve cutting things off. Amputations. Even when the mower is turned off, the blades on many mowers, older models in particular, can still turn. An Emergency Room nurse summed it by saying,”People cut their fingers and toes off with them fairly frequently.”

Lawnmower accidents go beyond amputations. Burns can occur and even house fires.  A friend said

“Mine got too hot on Friday, blew the cap & oil all over. I didn’t get hurt or anything but I haven’t tried to run it again.”

Running over things is common. People remembered running over everything from snakes to bunnies to sentimental toys. Possibly the worst running over story that didn’t involve a projectile was this one:

“A few years ago I was mowing, wearing shorts, and ran over a in-ground bees’ nest. Got stung about a dozen times on each leg before I realized what the sudden pain was and could run far enough away. So, my tip is wear long pants.”

Lawnmowers can toss objects at a speed of 200 miles per hour. Projectile accidents are more common and more  dangerous than you might think. For example:

“When I was younger, my mother told me about some friends whose child was in the yard while the dad was mowing. He ran over a piece of metal he didn’t know was there. It was thrown out of the mower, hit the child in the head and killed him.”

“When I was a kid, I was wearing tennis shoes while mowing the lawn & hit a wire. It lodged in my fourth toe. My dad pulled the wire out with a pliers & then we headed to the doctor for a tetanus shot. Never wore tennis shoes to mow again”

Thirteen children per day are injured by lawnmowers in the US. Accidents involving kids are some of the most heartbreaking::

“A young kid who was mowing had the riding mower tip over on him, slicing his guts open.(The doctor)  had to work fast and try to pull some muscles over the area and stitch it up. Not pretty. “

“When I was at Mayo as a student, I took care of a kid who had an above the knee amputation after his dad accidentally ran him over with a lawn mower. The child was only 5 years old. While it was super sad that the kid lost his leg, it was also so hard to watch the dad interact with his child. You could tell how horrible he felt and was in tears more than the child. I’m sure the child now has a prosthetic and is living as normal of a life as possible (I have friends who design prosthetics and the functionality of them is pretty amazing). But, that dad will always have a reminder of that horrible day when he accidentally ran his kid over.”

“When I was young, my mom was teaching me how to use the riding mower. We were mowing around a shed in the backyard. I heard a big rock shoot out, and I leaned to the right to look over my shoulder behind me, and the edge of the shed sliced right down my neck on the left side. As the mower kept moving forward, I though my head might be ripped off. I had “rug burn” down my neck for weeks. Also my grandfather lost his leg mowing a ditch. Mowing is not my favorite chore.”

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New lawn mowers have some safety features including a foot shield and a blade break (clutch chute) that stops the blade when the handle is released. There is still a potential for injury as you can read above. Many ride-on mowers have Rollover Protection. This along with a seatbelt is recommended by OSHA. All mowers should have deflection shields on the discharge chute. These push projectiles down instead of out.

Here are some safety tips to make sure that you have a safe summer:

Be sure to clean the blades before you mow and some sites suggest spraying them with cooking spay before mowing to prevent clogs. When cleaning a mower without a blade break remove the spark plug to prevent accidental starts. 

Don’t go back! Push the mower forward, never pull it back. For ride-on mowers, many accidents occur when backing up so keep them moving forward.

Never let kids (or any passengers) ride along.

Don’t mow when the grass is wet. The mower will clog more and slips are more likely.

Use a push mower on slopes and a string mower on extreme slopes. Use OSHA’ s slope guide.The Consumer Protection Safety Commission recommends mowing across a slope with a push mower and with the slope with a ride on. Don’t make sharp turns or sudden starts with a riding mower, especially on hills.

Don’t walk away from a running lawnmower.

Wear long pants and sturdy shoes and safety glasses when mowing.

Fill the mower with gas before mowing. If you run out of gas, let the mower cool completely before refilling.

Make sure the mower blades have stopped and the mower is off before cleaning the blades.

Let the mower cool down before putting it away. House fires have been stared due to hot lawnmowers!

Don’t use your mower as a hedge trimmer.

Don’t mow when you are drunk.

Clear the yard of debris before mowing.

Make sure people and pets are inside before you mow. The average age for a lawn mower bystander injury is 6 years.

Do not let children under the age of twelve mow. The average age for a child injured  while lawn mowing is 10.7 years.

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For a healthy lawn, keep your grass at the proper height. This depends on the type of grass but don’t let it get shorter than an inch or longer than three inches. Grass needs some height to develop roots. In the summer, setting the blade to the highest setting and cutting only the top third is recommended. Letting your grass get too long makes it difficult to mow. Most people mow once a week.

People have favored surrounding their homes with short grass for centuries.This was maintained by servants or more frequently animals until the widespread use of lawnmowers in the 1890s. With the advent of the mower, came injuries.

To review, be safe. Lawnmower accidents happen across the globe. Perhaps you have heard the Genesis song with the lyric “Me, I’m just a lawn mower. You can tell me by the way I walk.” You don’t want to be that guy. Take care.

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