Mow Down Hazards with These Lawnmower Safety Tips

June 7, 2006
It's summer. A time for cookouts, baseball, outdoor concerts and mowing the lawn.

As innocuous as this household chore might seem and there probably are some who consider it more of a passion than a chore each year more than 70,000 people with lawnmower-related injuries end up in emergency rooms, including more than 7,000 children under 15.

Off-the-job injuries translate to a steep price tag for employers, according to the National Safety Council. The organization which contends that nearly two-thirds of disabling injuries to workers occur off the job estimates that off-the-job injuries and fatalities cost U.S. businesses almost $200 billion annually in lost productivity.

That's all the "mower" reason to emphasize the importance of off-the-job safety to your employees this summer, with the weather presenting "mower" opportunities for mishaps in and around the house.

John Myre, creator of the Safety Times newsletter and author of "Live Safely in a Dangerous World: How to Beat the Odds of Dying in an Accident," offers a number of tips for "cutting" down on injuries and incidents while mowing the lawn:

To protect everyone:

  • Buy only a mower with a control that stops the mower when you let go of the handle.
  • Each year, thoroughly review and follow the operating and maintenance instructions in your operator's manual.
  • Get your mower professionally serviced before each cutting season.
  • Leave all safety features intact.
  • Invest in [ANSI-approved] safety glasses, especially when using side-discharge mowers and lawn trimmers.
  • Do not operate a lawnmower when you're tired or under the influence of alcohol or a medication.
  • Wear hearing protection, but do not listen to music or the radio.
  • Fill the tank outdoors. To avoid refueling, put in just enough gasoline to perform the job.
  • Put children and pets in the house until finished.
  • The Outdoor Power Equipment Institutes recommends that children do not operate a lawnmower. If you allow a teenager to mow grass, be sure he or she understands the operator's manual, will exercise caution and is strong enough to manage the mower. Supervise several jobs before allowing him or her to do the job on his or her own, and spot-monitor unannounced later.

When walking behind a mower:

  • Mow only in dry conditions and daylight.
  • Before starting, pick up any rocks, sticks, cans, wires or toys in your path.
  • Wear close-fitting long pants and heavy-duty shoes with non-slip soles and steel-toe protection. For mowing terraces, consider shoes with cleats.
  • Cut the difficult or hilly areas first, while you're fresh and your concentration is at its peak.
  • Never leave the mower unattended while the engine is running.
  • Stop when a person especially a child or a pet is in the area.
  • Never cross driveways or paths with the blade rotating. The blade can pick up and throw rocks.
  • To clear a clogged discharge chute, turn off the engine and then use only a stick.
  • If the blade strikes an object, turn off the engine and examine the mower thoroughly for damage. Before checking the blade, remove the spark plug wire, if accessible.
  • Mow across inclines.
  • Keep the mower flat.
  • Push the mower. Pulling it increases the risk of slipping and pulling it over your foot.

For riding mowers:

  • Do not carry passengers on a riding mower, especially small children. About 15 children are killed each year in riding mower incidents, usually from falling off the mower and being run over.
  • When backing up, look behind and down for children and pets.
  • Always start the machine from the operator's seat.
  • Slow down at corners, blind spots and when descending hills.
  • Watch for holes, ruts or bumps obscured by grass.
  • Do now mow in reverse. If you must back up, disengage the blade and proceed with caution.
  • To avoid tipping, mow up and down on gentle slopes never across.
  • If there's doubt about tipping or losing control of the riding mower, stay off the slope.
  • If the tires slip on a slope, it's too steep. Disengage the blade and go slowly, straight down the slope.
  • Inspect your riding mower each time before you start it.

Safety Times reproducible articles, which are designed to help employers present off-the-job safety information to workers, can be ordered at For more on the book "Live Safely in a Dangerous World," visit

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