Since you’re reading this magazine, you’re most likely up close and personal with at least one type of lawn machine. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 60,000 injuries are treated in hospital emergency rooms each year because of unsafe operation of lawn mowers. Safety should be your first concern whenever operating these powerful machines.
Today, manufacturers have developed much safer mowers than those in the past, but even the safest mower won’t prevent a careless operator from causing an accident or injury. Remember that safety with lawn mowers is the operator’s responsibility. The following lawn mower safety tips are only as good as the folks who enforce them.
Rules to live by for all mowing machines:
- First and foremost, read the owner’s manual and learn about the machine and its controls before taking it out of the garage. Learn how to start it, and more importantly, how to stop it quickly. Always give your complete and undivided attention to the safe operation of the machine.
- Be sure to clean up the area to be mowed before you start mowing, not as you go along. The blades on mowers spin very fast and can pick up and throw debris before you even see it, which could cause serious injury to bystanders and pets.
- The mower deck has spinning mower blades that can amputate hands and feet, so do not allow anyone, particularly children and pets, near the mower while it is running.
- Always allow the mower blade(s) to stop completely before leaving the mower’s operator position. Never operate a lawn mower without the discharge guard (reflector) or engine grass catcher installed.
- When mowing with any machine, wear long pants to protect your legs and heavy-duty shoes with nonslip soles — and never wear loose-fitting clothes that could get caught in moving parts.
- Always wear eye and ear protection when mowing.
- Don’t mow a lawn when it’s wet, and don’t mow late in the day when there’s insufficient light.
- Never adjust the mower height, clean the grass chute, or remove the grass catcher with the mower running. Never attempt to lift or repair the mower with the engine running.
- Always stay clear of a hot engine. Mufflers can reach up to 1,200°F.
- Store gasoline in a container with a UL, FM or CSA label. Never keep gasoline inside the house or fill a gas tank indoors.
- Never store the machine or fuel container where there is an open flame, a spark or a pilot light, such as near a water heater or other appliances — and keep it out of direct sun if possible.
- Never fill containers inside a vehicle or on a truck bed. Always place containers on the ground away from your vehicle before filling.
- If you spill gas, clean it up immediately and do not attempt to start the engine. Move the mower away from the spill so you don’t create a source of ignition from the fuel vapors.
- Don’t overfill the fuel tank. Replace the gas cap and tighten it securely.
- Never remove the gas cap or add fuel with the engine running. Allow the engine to cool before refueling.
- Never smoke while you’re filling the gas tank.
Safety for walk-behind mowers
- Do not put your hands or feet near or under the mower deck.
- Never tilt a walk-behind mower; keep all four wheels on the ground at all times.
- Do not pull the mower backward unless absolutely necessary. Always look down and behind before and while mowing backwards.
Safety for riding mowers
- Do not carry passengers.
- Disengage all clutches, including the mower blade, and put the gear shift in neutral before starting the engine. Most mowers now have safety interlocks that prevent the engine from starting unless all controls are in the proper positions, and newer mowers will not start without an operator on the seat.
- Test-drive the machine and become familiar with it before engaging the mower blade.
- Be cautious when driving a riding mower, and watch out for holes and hidden hazards. Do not drive too close to a creek or ditch and be mindful of obstructions in your yard, such as utility vents, air-conditioning units and water/sewer access.
- Be especially careful on slopes to prevent tipping or losing control. Reduce speed on all slopes and when making sharp turns. Typically, it is safer to mow steeper slopes up and down, but do not attempt this on any slope so steep that the mower could lose traction. You can be seriously injured or even killed if you use a riding mower on too steep an incline. Using a riding mower on a slope that is too steep, or where you don’t have adequate traction, can cause you to lose control or roll over. Always consult your operator’s manual for safety tips and advice concerning operation on a slope.
- Disengage the mower blade when moving on pavement, across walks or on gravel lanes.
- Do not attempt to operate the mower when not in the driver’s seat. Electric-start riding mowers have a seat switch that stops the blade, drive train and engine if the operator leaves the seat, and which will not allow the mower to be restarted without an operator of sufficient weight being on the seat.
- Do not mow with a riding mower in reverse unless absolutely necessary.
Safety for electric mowers
- Never use an electric mower when it’s wet or raining.
- Use only recommended, grounded extension cords.
- Use a ground fault circuit interrupter to prevent electric shock.
- Mow away from the cord.
- Never abuse the cord or use a frayed cord.
- Always turn off the mower when you leave it, and unplug the cord directly from the outlet — never unplug it by yanking or tugging the cord from the wall.
Keep children safe around mowers
Many children are severely injured by lawn mowers each year. Power mowers can be especially dangerous. However, most mower-related injuries can be prevented by following all of the safety guidelines outlined in this article, in addition to these child-specific rules.
- Before learning how to mow the lawn, your child should show the maturity, good judgment, strength and coordination that the job requires. In general, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should be at least 12 years of age to safely operate a walk-behind power mower or hand mower, and 16 years of age to safely operate a riding lawn mower.
- It is important to teach children how to use a lawn mower. Before you allow them to mow the lawn alone, spend time showing them how to do the job safely. Supervise their work until you’re sure they can manage the task alone.
- Before mowing the lawn, make sure children (and pets) are indoors or at a safe distance away from the area you plan to mow.
- Clear the area to be mowed of any objects that could be picked up and thrown by the lawn mower blades, such as twigs, stones and toys. Even after doing that, be sure to watch for objects you may have missed, as well as hidden dangers. Tall grass can hide objects, holes and bumps. Use caution when approaching corners, trees or anything that might block your view. (Keep in mind that lawn trimmers also can throw objects at high speed, so keep children — and pets — at a safe distance away from where you’re trimming as well.)
- Remain aware of where children and pets are at all times, and do not allow them near the area you’re mowing. Since children tend to be attracted to lawn mowers in use, it’s important to keep a close eye on them — or better yet, have another adult outside to watch them while you work.
- Never allow children to ride as passengers on riding lawn mowers or garden tractors, and never allow children who are operating a riding mower to take on passengers.
Keep the grass safe, too
In addition to machine safety and personal safety, remember to keep your grass in optimal condition as well.
Don’t be overzealous with your mower — cutting grass too short causes weak, thin grass plants, which makes them susceptible to damage by drought, disease and pests. Let the grass grow a bit longer, especially during a hot, dry summer. Longer grass will preserve needed moisture and protect grass from heat damage and more.
Apply the one-third rule: Never cut more than one-third of the grass height, and never more than one inch at a time.