Riding Lawnmower Safety

One of the biggest causes of summertime emergency room visits relates to riding mower incidents; during 2003 to 2005, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated 37,000 injuries were treated that directly related to riding mowers. A Johns Hopkins study puts the number much higher; they say that over 80,000 Americans are injured every year while mowing. And about 95 deaths per year are attributed to riding mower incidents. Here we will discuss both the known and the lesser-known mistakes people make with riding lawnmowers that lead to accidents, and how these can be prevented.

The most common causes of riding mower incidents are the victim falling off or being thrown off the machine, often as it tips over, or the victim being run over by the machine. In order to help prevent this, there is a safety standard for mowers that were manufactured in 2003 or later. Adherence is voluntary, so even if you’re shopping for a new machine you’ll have to be sure the label says it meets 2003 ANSI B71.1 standards. The features include stopping the blade from turning if the operator leaves the seat or if the mower is in reverse, better stability involving turns and traction, and a higher seat back.

Many accidents happen because people initially purchase mowers that have these safety features, but then they decide to disengage them. Typically if the blade will stop turning upon your weight leaving the seat you will be safe if the mower turns over or falls from a retaining wall or other elevation. Without this safety features, riders often lose fingers or toes upon impact.

According to the Annals of Emergency Medicine (AEM), individuals over the age of 70 had the highest rate of riding mower injuries. Their study also found that the total number of lawnmower injuries has increased in the U.S. during the past nine years.

The AEM noted that a large number of injuries were caused by debris that flew out from under the lawnmower, hitting a body part or injuring the eye. Because of the high incidence of projectile related injuries, they recommend wearing protective clothing and eyewear when mowing. Other common injuries were non-specific pain after mowing the lawn and fractures of the foot---34% of which resulted in toe amputation.
In order to avoid injuries:

  • Use the right kind of mower. Select a mower that is right for the job and is large enough to do it properly.
  • Wear goggles , long sleeves, long pants, and close-toed shoes
  • Wear protective gloves when servicing your mower
  • Never service your mower while it is running
  • Operate your mower up and down a slope (not sideways) to maintain stability
  • Prepare the lawn for mowing; remove sticks, toys, rocks, and other items from the grass. If the grass is tall, look for objects that could shatter the blade like pipes or rocks that are partially buried in the ground.
  • Never smoke while refueling
  • Never fuel a hot engine, and wipe spills immediately
  • Don’t start the engine and run it in a closed area, like a garage.

Riding lawnmowers were created for convenience, but they can be a hazard if not used properly. Be sure to read your owner's manual, and don't disconnect safety features that are available for use on your machine.

Tanya Davis is a freelance writer living in Tennesee.