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Children's Wisconsin lawn mower safety

What to know before you mow

With warmer weather upon us, yard work often fills our summer weekends. It can be fun and also helpful to get kids involved. However, one area of yard work that needs to be supervised by adults and only completed by kids older than 12 is mowing the lawn. To protect young children from lawn-mower-related injuries, experts recommend parents and caregivers keep them away from mowers and find safer ways to involve them in yard work.

Every year, more than 16,000 kids across the country are seen in emergency departments, urgent care or a doctor’s office with lawn-mower-related injuries. The most common injuries typically involve finger tips, hands, arms, legs and feet, and range from mild to life-threatening. 

  • Cuts: Cuts can occur anywhere on the body, but most often occur on the hands and feet from the sharp blades. Small wounds or cuts can harbor unsafe bacteria. Infections are common, and antibiotic medicines are usually necessary.

  • Burns: The hot engine, gas tank or exhaust of a lawn mower can cause burns. If your child suffers a cut or burn from a lawn mower, click here to read about how to care for the wound.

  • Projectile injuries: A variety of injuries may be caused by items such as rocks, mulch, toys, etc., in the lawn, being thrown from the spinning blades.

  • Broken bones: The rotating blades of a mower can not only cause significant cuts and lacerations, but may damage deeper tissue and break bones in many cases.

  • Amputations: The sharp blades of a mower can amputate part of an arm, leg, hand or foot. Burns, cuts and fractures can range from mild to severe, but some may be so severe that the injured part of the body requires amputation to prevent infection and further complications.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids should be 12 years old and older to operate a push mower, and at least 16 years old to use a riding mower. Before kids tackle lawn care and maintenance, it’s important for parents and guardians to show kids how to properly and safely do it. Until they’re able to manage the task safely, kids should be carefully supervised. 

Know before you mow 

  • Before anyone mows the lawn, a few safety precautions should be observed:

  • Read the lawn mower operator's manual and the instructions on the mower.

  • Clear the mowing area of any objects such as twigs, stones and toys that could be picked up and thrown by the lawn mower blades.

  • Make sure that children are indoors or at a safe distance away from the area that you plan to mow. Objects accidentally run over such as rocks, sticks or toys can fly at up to 200 mph when spit out by the rotating blades, endangering both the operator and others in the yard.

  • Make sure that protective guards, shields, the grass catcher, and other types of safety equipment are placed properly on the lawn mower and that your mower is in good condition.

  • Do not mow during bad weather or thunderstorms. Do not mow in the dark or without an adequate amount of daylight, and do not mow wet grass.

  • If your lawnmower is electric, use a ground fault circuit interrupter to prevent electric shock.

  • Never allow passengers on a riding lawn mower. Only the operator should sit in the driver's seat, even though it might be tempting to give little kids a ride. Children can easily fall off a riding mower and be injured.

  • When preparing to mow the lawn, whether a push mower or riding mower, wear protective gear including sturdy shoes, protective eyewear and hearing protection. A lawn mower can make noise louder than 85 decibels which, over time, can damage hearing.

Lawn mower safety

  • Mowers should have a control that stops the blade from moving if the handle is released.

  • Do not pull the mower backward toward you. If you slip or otherwise lose control, you could pull the mower over yourself. Similarly, never mow in reverse on a riding mower unless absolutely necessary, and carefully look for children behind you when you mow in reverse.

  • Always turn off the mower and wait for the blades to stop completely before removing the grass catcher, unclogging the discharge chute, or crossing gravel paths, roads or other areas.

  • With a riding mower, drive up and down slopes, not across to prevent mower rollover. With a push mower, mow across slopes to avoid the mower rolling over your feet if you slip.

  • Keep guards, shields, switches, and safety devices on mowers in proper working order at all times. Consider using eye protection in areas where there may be a lot of rocks or debris.

  • A running lawnmower should not be left unattended.

  • Even though you checked the yard for sticks, rocks and toys before you mowed, keep an eye out while mowing for anything you’ve missed. If debris is caught in the mower, turn the motor off, wait for it to cool off and use a stick or broom handle to remove the debris — not your hands or feet.

  • Don’t allow kids around a recently turned off lawn mower, which will be hot from being used. Kids can get burns from touching the hot mower.

  • When refueling, always stop the engine and wait for the mower to cool before putting more gas in. This is best handled by an adult.

Kids do well when given responsibility. Yard work is a great way kids can help around the house. If your kids are old enough and can handle the task of lawn maintenance, make sure they do so safely with the above tips. 

For more injury prevention tips, the Safe Kids Wisconsin coalition led by Children’s Wisconsin offers guidance on a variety of topics to help keep your kids safe and well.
If you have any questions about your child’s safety and well-being, always check with your child’s pediatrician.