With summer in full swing, children are out playing and adults are mowing lawns — often at the same time. Children and lawn mowers are never a good combination, so this week, I’ll take a cut at the dangers of lawnmowers.
Each year, nearly 16,000 children get injured from a lawn mower. Half of those injuries are due to problems with children on riding mowers or playing with power mowers. Almost 10 percent of these children need to be hospitalized, which is twice the rate of other consumer-product injuries. Lawn-mower injuries to children include deep cuts, loss of fingers and toes, broken and dislocated bones, burns, eye damage and more.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently made the following recommendations for preventing lawn-mower injuries in children:
1. Children should be at least 16 years old to operate ride-on mowers and 12 years of age to use push mowers. It’s not just the age requirement that allows them to operate these machines: They need to demonstrate appropriate levels of judgment, strength, coordination and maturity. Children should receive a period of operational training, safety instruction and supervision by an adult before they mow the lawn on their own.
2. Before mowing, make sure your teen clears the area of twigs, stones and toys that can be picked up and thrown by the mower blades. Make sure the mower is in good condition and that protective guards, shields, the grass catcher and other safety equipment are in working order.
3. Teens should wear sturdy shoes and not sandals and wear protective clothing and eyewear to protect against flying debris. Ear plugs can also be useful to prevent hearing damage.
4. Teens should never pull the mower backward or mow in reverse.
5. When a teen has finished mowing, they should turn off a power mower and wait for the blades to stop before removing the grass catcher, unclogging the discharge chute or crossing gravel paths, roads or other areas with the mower.
6. No children should be allowed to ride as passengers on mowers or to be towed behind mowers in carts or trailers. Children under 6 should be kept indoors during all mowing.
7. Remind teens that other garden power equipment such as clippers and weed trimmers should never be left out unattended. Also, they should keep cans of gasoline and other hazardous materials out of reach of younger children and never start or refuel a mower in a garage or shed.
Hopefully tips like these will prevent you or your mower from becoming a pain in the grass when it comes to keeping your child safe this summer.
Dr. Lewis First is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.