Lawn mowers: A medical menace?

253,000 individuals were treated for lawn mower-related injuries in 2010, and an estimated 17,000 of them were under 19. (David Bradley/AP)

By Michael Yudell

The smell of fresh-cut grass isn’t usually associated with a public health hazard, but organizations representing disparate parts of the medical profession — pediatricians, orthopedic surgeons, and reconstructive surgeons — are calling attention to the little known risks of mowing your lawn.

It’s not hard to imagine the dangers of mowing lawns — sharp blades spinning at high-speeds and sometimes inexperienced or distracted people operating them. And, sure enough, 253,000 individuals were treated for lawn mower-related injuries in 2010, and an estimated 17,000 of them were under 19. Eighty percent of those kids were boys.

Injuries can be caused by contact with blades, heated components of the mechanism, projectiles shot from the mower. Ride-on models are more likely to cause injury than push mowers, particularly from getting run over or backed up on. Common injuries: cuts, burns, broken bones and, in extreme cases, damage requiring amputation.

The majority of lawn mower-related injuries are preventable, but efforts so far have not been effective. Mishaps are on the increase — up 3 percent in one year.

“Most lawn mower injuries occur when the operator is distracted momentarily and injuries can range from finger tips to entire hands and feet,” Michael Neumeister, president of the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery, said in a news release on the issue. That organization joined with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons to raise the alarm.

They offer the following guidelines for lawn mower safety:

  • Only use a mower that has protection over hot and sharp parts.

  • Riding mowers should have the reverse switch behind the driver, forcing him or her to look behind when placing the machine in reverse.

  • Push mowers should have a control that stops forward motion when the handle is released.

  • Children should not be in the yard when the grass is being cut. If they must, then they should be kept at least 20 feet away from the running lawn mower at all times.

  • Children should be at least age 12 years old before operating a push mower, and 16 to operate a riding lawn mower.

  • Children should never be passengers on ride-on mowers.

  • Always wear sturdy shoes while mowing the lawn — do not wear sandals.

  • Remove stones, toys, and debris from the grass before mowing to prevent injuries from flying objects.

  • Always wear eye and hearing protection.

Despite safety improvements to lawn mowers themselves, people are still getting hurt. Children are injured at a rate significantly higher than for other consumer products.

So be careful out there, folks.

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