Gas-powered lawn mowers may be the most dangerous tool regularly used around the home. They create hot exhaust fumes and their blades spin 2,000 to 4,000 times per minute, turning small toys and garden debris into deadly missiles.
U.S. safety experts estimate lawn mower accidents severely injure 75,000 people every year. The minor accidents could easily number in the millions.
Mechanical failure accounts for a very small percentage of those injuries. That suggests none of us ever becomes too old or too experienced to brush up on what's involved in safe mowing.
The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that youths will be allowed to use a ride-on lawn mower only after they're 16 years old and children will be allowed to operate a walk-behind mower only after they're 12.
Here are some of the other basics homeowners should keep in mind:
• Before mowing, search the yard every time. Look for small objects that may be hidden from obvious view. Most lawn mower blades run at 100 to 200 miles per hour. So, if one hits a rock, wire, acorn or stick, that object can become deadly: both airborne and fast as the wink of an eye.
• When mowing a slope with a riding mower, mow down the grade. When mowing with a push mower, mow across the slope. If you need two people to mow an incline one to push the mower and the other to hold the rope that's keeping the mower from tipping over then the slope is too steep for safe mowing. Give serious thought to hitting the hill with a herbicide and replanting with a groundcover.
• Do not operate a mower unless it is in sound operating condition according to the definition of "safe" in the owner's manual.
Periodically check for loose or missing safety guards, as well as loose or missing bolts. Make sure the brakes and/or operator presence control (OPC) system s always in good working order.
The operator presence control ensures the blade on a walk-behind mower will come to a complete stop within 3 seconds of the control's being released. Without it, a simple slip on wet grass can become disastrous.
The above information assumes that you've already read your owner's manual. You actually know how this particular piece of machinery not your old mower is supposed to operate. You know how to start and stop it safely. Plus, you know — and actually believe — you must turn the mower off and disconnect its spark plug before doing any service work. Those steps are essential, too.
• Do not mow after you hear thunder. When a storm is close enough to hear, it's close enough for lightning to strike you, even though the dark clouds may appear to be miles away.
• Do not mow when anyone else is in the vicinity of the mower itself and any projectiles it may create. It only takes a second for an unintended tragedy to occur.
• Protect yourself. Sturdy shoes are much safer than sandals or even tennis shoes. Jeans or work pants are much better than shorts. Safety glasses or shatter-resistant sunglasses can protect eyesight.
Don't forget your ears, either. Most mowers operate at 95 decibels or more — loud enough to cause hearing loss. Personal hearing protection can really reduce that risk. Don't fool yourself that a CD player or radio with earphones is another way to drown out the mower's noise. Many times the music they produce is even louder than the mower!