This article originally appeared in the July 28, 2008 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
There are times when life-changing events occur in the blink of an eye. One of the most tragic – and preventable – of these occurrences is lawn mower injuries.
Each year, more than 16,000 people 18 years old and younger are treated for grass-cutting injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. That’s nearly two children every hour, suffering injuries that almost always could have been prevented.
Often far more than minor scrapes and scratches, lawn mower injuries can be extensive — from partial lower-limb amputations to major injuries of the eyes, face, and hands — and may require care from a team of doctors, multiple surgeries, and significant recovery time and rehabilitation. These injuries often involve the legs and can cause significant bleeding, amputation or even death.
“Commonly, we see badly injured children who were riding on a lawn mower, then fell off and were kind of sucked under the mower,” says Dr. Elizabeth Engel, director of pediatric orthopedic surgery at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. “Other times, the child comes running outside while a parent or other adult is mowing and the child is either backed over or slips and is run over by the mower.”
To help you and your family avoid lawnmower injuries this summer, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), and the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery (ASRM) offer these important tips:
• Never let children under 12 years old operate lawnmowers of any kind. Don't let kids use ride-on mowers until they're 16.
• Never let children ride as passengers on ride-on mowers.
• Never mow in reverse or pull the mower backwards. But if you absolutely have to, carefully look for people behind you first.
• Never let kids or teens adjust the blade settings — that's a job for an adult.
• Always pick up stones, toys, and debris (like trash or sticks) from the lawn before mowing to prevent injuries from flying objects.
• Always keep young children away whenever a lawn is being mowed.
• Always wear hearing and eye protection, and sturdy shoes — not sandals — while mowing.
• Make sure the mower has a control that makes it stop moving forward when you release the handle.
• Wait for the blades to completely stop before crossing gravel roads or trying to unclog the mower.
• Start and put gas in mowers outdoors — never in a garage. Make sure the motor is turned off and cooled down before refueling.
Taking over grass-cutting chores is a rite of passage for many youngsters. But parents should take this step cautiously. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a child be at least 12 years old before pushing a mower, parents should consider their individual child’s maturity level and physical strength when deciding whether they are ready for the job.
“Some young people aren’t mature enough to really think things through. They don’t realize that they could be injured if they pick up a rock or a stick while the mower is running, or that they can inadvertently start the mower if they reach under to clear something that’s blocking the blades,” Dr. Engel says. “It is vitally important that parents and children understand just how serious an undertaking lawn-mowing can be.”
Before kids and teens begin mowing, it is wise for parents to:
• review the do’s and don'ts with them
• show them how grass-cutting is done safely
• watch as the child learns, to be sure they understand the rules and can handle the responsibility
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.