The 4th of July is over, summer is in full swing. By this time mowing is no longer the novelty it was just a few weeks ago. Even though mowing the lawn is part of a weekly or twice weekly routine, safety should never be overlooked.
Before operating the mower, read the operator's manual. Know where all the controls are and their function. Know what safety features your machine has and how they work. Resist the temptation to disable those safety features. Dress properly; heavy-duty shoes with non-slip soles, long pants and close-fitting clothing are recommended. Regularly inspect the mower for potential problems. Check for loose belts, missing or damaged guards, accumulations of grass, leaves, grease or other debris. Fill the gas tank when the engine is cold. If you must refuel while working, let the engine cool before refilling. Turn off the engine and disconnect the spark plug wire before working on the mower or attempting to unclog it.
Clean up the lawn before mowing. Remove rocks, twigs, toys, or other objects that can become missiles and injure bystanders. Mowers can throw small objects as far as 50 feet at speeds of more than 200 mph. Keep a look out for additional debris while you are mowing. Pick up the debris and dispose of it rather than mowing over it. Mow when there is sufficient light to see clearly.
When using a walk-behind mower, mow across a slope rather than up and down. By mowing across a slope, you will be less likely to slip under the mower. Additionally, the mower can't roll back on you. Never mow a slope that is too steep for you to keep your balance or to control the machine. Weed whips do an effective job on steep slopes. When mowing, don't overreach; keep proper footing and balance at all times. Always push the mower; don't pull it toward your feet. Keep the mower flat, don't lift the front end over tall grass or weeds. Avoid mowing wet grass when you are more likely to slip or clog the mower.
Riding mower operators should never carry passengers. Do not mow in reverse unless absolutely necessary. Never leave an unattended machine running. Always turn off the blades, set the parking brake, and stop the engine before dismounting. When not mowing, turn off the blades and attachments. On slopes, mow up and down since riding mowers can tip easily. Use slow speed and keep all movements slow and gradual. Avoid starting or stopping on a slope. Avoid using grass catchers on steep slopes or rough terrain. They can alter the stability of the mower. On more gradual inclines, if you are catching the clippings, empty grass catchers before they are completely full. Avoid the urge to put your foot on the ground to stabilize the mower. Avoid turning on slopes. If you must turn, disengage the blades, then slowly and gradually turn down hill. Never mow near dropoffs or embankments where a wheel could go over the edge or the edge could cave in and tip the mower.
Mowing the lawn should be taken seriously. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported 76,133 mowing related accidents in 1991. This number includes homeowners, children, and lawn care professionals. Riding mowers accounted for 25,300 injuries a year. Of those injured, 75 died. One out of every five fatalities are children under the age of 15. Walk behind mowers accounted for 0.75 accidents per thousand mowers, but no deaths. The main reason for the reduced injury rate is the mandatory safety standards put in place in 1982. Before you or your children become a statistic, make sure all mower operators understand and follow proper safety practices.
This article originally appeared in the July 15, 1994 issue, p. 110.