by Alan Robson, Medical Director of Children's Hospital
June is National Safety Month so it is appropriate that I address a topic relating to childhood injuries, namely power lawn mowers. These ubiquitous tools are dangerous if not used appropriately. In 2010, approximately 253,000 people were treated for lawn mower related injuries, of which 17,000 were aged 18 years or younger. At Children’s Hospital, we have seen our share of such injuries.
The injury rate for riding mowers is more than three times greater than that for push mowers. Boys are three times more likely to receive a mower related injury than are girls.
The most common injuries are lacerations (41.2%), followed by soft tissue lesions from being hit by objects thrown by the mower (21.4%), burns (15.5%), fractures (10.3%), amputations (5.1%) and foreign bodies (3.3%). The most common sites for injuries are hands and fingers (34.6%), lower extremities (18.9%), feet and toes (17.7%), face, eyes and necks (15.2%) and upper extremities (7.4%). The hospitalization rate to treat these injuries is high and deaths have occurred not only
in operators of these machines but also in innocent bystanders. Most of these deaths occur in children ages four to six years.
Many organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, have made major efforts to reduce the rate of injuries resulting from the use of power mowers. Most of the recommendations represent common sense but are outlined here as a reminder.
• Make sure that protective guards, shields, the grass catcher and other types of safety equipment are installed correctly and that the mower is in good condition.
• Only use a machine with a control that stops the mower blade from moving if the handle is released.
• Children should be at least 12 years of age before operating a walk behind power lawn mower or age 16 years before operating a riding lawn mower.
• Sturdy shoes, not sandals or sneakers, should be worn while mowing.
• Do not mow during bad weather, when the grass is wet or when there is not enough daylight.
• Do not allow children to ride as passengers on a riding lawn mower.
• Young children must not be allowed to play on the lawn or in adjacent areas when power mowers are being used. Children under the age of six years
should be kept indoors during mowing.
• Do not pull the mower backwards or mow in reverse unless it is essential to do so. Look for children behind you if you mow in reverse.
• Prevent injuries from flying objects:
• Make sure there are no stones, twigs or toys on the lawn before mowing;
• Stop the engine before crossing gravel paths or roads.
• Stop the engine before:
• Removing the grass catcher;
• Unclogging the discharge chute;
• Walking away from the mower.
• Use a stick, broom handle, etc. to unclog a mower. Do not use your hands.
• Use extra caution when mowing a slope.
After spending most of the night working on a child who had amputated part of his foot from a mowing accident, a member of our medical staff summed it up very succinctly: "Young children and lawn mowers do not mix.” This statement prompted me to write this column.