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The Medical Minute: Avoiding lawn mower injuries this spring and summer

April showers might bring May flowers, but they also kick grass into high growing gear, prompting homeowners everywhere to pull out the mower in hopes of cutting order into their lawns.

It also means that emergency departments begin seeing more injuries caused by this most familiar piece of household equipment.

More than 83,000 people were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments for lawn mower injuries in 2011, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Susan E. Rzucidlo, M.S.N., R.N., pediatric trauma and injury prevention program manager at Penn State Hershey, said both riding and push mowers can cause harm if not operated safely.

Although adults should be more aware of the risks than children, they still engage in dangerous practices that result in everything from minor cuts and bruises to broken bones and amputations. “The injuries are often severe,” Rzucidlo says.

If you mow in flip flops or sandals, listen to an MP3 player while mowing, or let kids help push the mower or ride on your lap, you're asking for trouble, she says.

Rzucidlo and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend the following tips to reduce the likelihood of injury for both children and adults:

  • Only use a mower with a control that stops the mower blade from moving if the handle is let go.
  • Do not allow children younger than 12 to operate a push lawn mower — 16 for a riding lawn mower.
  • Wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes (not sandals or sneakers) while mowing. “That way your feet are not as likely to slip and go under the blades,” Rzucidlo says.
  • Pick up objects from the lawn before mowing. Flying sticks, stones or toys can cause injury.
  • Anyone using a mower or near a mower in use should wear protective eyewear and earwear. “The mower puts out really high decibels, so sometimes people will put on music,” she says. “But then you are going to have to turn it up louder to hear it, so you aren't protecting your ears but subjecting them to higher decibel sounds. That is eventually going to cause hearing loss.”
  • Do not pull the mower backward or mow in reverse unless absolutely necessary. Look for children behind you if you must 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, inspecting or repairing lawn mower equipment or crossing gravel paths, roads or other areas.
  • Use a stick or broom handle (not your hands or feet) to remove debris in lawn mowers.
  • Do not allow children to ride as passengers on ride-on mowers, and keep children out of the yard while mowing. “Make sure they are inside or with another adult,” Rzucidlo says.
  • Drive up and down slopes, not across to prevent mower rollover.
  • Keep lawn mowers in good working order. When using a lawn mower for the first time in a season, have it serviced to ensure that it is working correctly.

The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature brought to you by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Articles feature the expertise of Penn State Hershey faculty physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

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