By Will Summers and Linda Summers, Master Gardeners
I’m sure everybody tunes up their lawnmowers and sharpens their blades in expectation of a long season of mowing. Most homeowners have mowed their lawns a couple times already this year. Not many people spend the time thinking about preventing dangers that may lurk in their yards. Lawnmower accidents aren’t something we think about until it happens, but last year there were seventeen thousand children requiring emergency treatment attributed to lawnmowers.
This past week I saw a home mower casually mow over a concrete hillside terrace retaining wall with a push-mower. The person was wearing “flip-flop” sandals, shorts and a tanktop shirt. This homeowner didn’t wear clothes protecting against flying debris while operating their mower in this dangerous manner. It is not unusual to see unsupervised children operating power mowers throughout Southern Illinois each summer. Please read these safety concerns and consider them when mowing this summer. Remember, it’s the person who injures themselves or someone else with a mower, not solely the mower alone that injures the person.
Look at the lawn: First, pick up all stones, bricks, toys, branches and any other objects that have accumulated over winter. Tamp down any ridges or soil mounds left by animals digging.
Look at the mower: Have the mower in tip-top operating condition. Springtime is a good time to have the mower tuned-up and the blades sharpened. Have the oil and filter changed, fresh spark plugs installed and the machine inspected and tuned to be sure it’s in good operating order. If your mower is new, take extra time to review the operating instructions and get used to its operation. Keep all mower guards, shields, roll bars or other safety equipment in place.
The condition of the mowing environment should be considered. Do not mow up and down a slope with a push mower. If you lose footing, slip or stumble, you may pull the mower on you or your feet slide under the mower deck. However, do mow up and down steep slopes, never perpendicular to the slope, with a riding lawnmower. Most mower instructions limit slopes to no more than fifteen percent slope. Do not mow a slope that may cause the mower to slip, slide or roll.
Who should mow? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting push-mowers to be operated only by persons 12 years old or older. This also depends on their strength, coordination, maturity and good judgment to operate a mower. They recommend limiting use of riding lawnmowers to be no younger than sixteen years. In all cases, make sure the young mower is familiar with the operation of the equipment and that the mower is in good operating condition.
Never mow while children are present or near. Always be aware of the potential for flying debris projected from the mower. Many mower accidents occur while backing-up with the mower operating. Never allow anyone, especially children, to ride along while mowing. Disengage the mower when crossing gravel driveways, paths or other places where you are likely to encounter loose stone.
Never mow when the grass is wet. Do not mow during thunder and lightning storms. Mow only during daylight with sufficient light. Avoid excessive mowing if ill or when overly tired. Save any alcohol consumption until after you’re done mowing. Drink extra water during hot temperatures and wear sunscreen on unprotected skin.
What to wear? Wear closed-toe, lace-up shoes with nonslip soles. Wear close-fitting (not loose or dangly) clothing such as long-sleeved pants and shirt. Wear ear protection, ear plugs and sound-dampening headphones. Wear gloves. Wear eye protection and a mask to keep from inhaling dust, chaff or pollen, especially if you are sensitive.
Please mow your lawn this summer with an eye toward safety. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission records indicate 75 deaths – (one out of every five deaths was a child) – and more than a quarter million hospital-treated injuries each year resulted from riding mower accidents alone.
For more information, please contact your nearby local Master Gardener or the University of Illinois Extension Office near you. The Washington County Master Gardeners wish you a happy and safe summer.
This Summer, Practice Lawn Mower Safety