Mow Smart

Mowing the yard is a peaceful task for some and a necessary evil for others. Although infrequent, lawn mowing injuries are normally severe when they do occur. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, yearly injuries (treated at emergency rooms) from lawn mowers total more than 70,000 annually.

Herb Willcutt, the Extension Professor and Agricultural Engineer in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Mississippi State University states, "The revolving blade of a lawn mower can throw objects at speeds of 200 miles per hour or the length of a football field in 1 second. There is no time to dodge thrown objects. It takes an adult about two-thirds of a second to react to danger and young children may react slower."

These are the following guidelines that he lays out when preparing to mow, mowing and storing the mower when finished:

Preparing to Mow

Before you mow, pick up objects lying on the lawn. Toys, tools, tires, car parts, cans, bottles, rocks, sticks, twigs and limbs are hazards to children playing on the lawn even when a mower is not operating. These items also present great danger to the operator, bystanders and the mower when mowing begins.

Mental Ability

Safe mowing requires knowledge, judgment and maturity. To operate a lawn mower safely, you must have the mental ability to do the following:

  • Read the operator's manual
  • Understand how to operate the equipment
  • Follow the manufacturer's safety instructions
  • Make informed decisions in an emergency
  • Accept the responsibility to protect trees and shrubs, pets, humans, automobiles and homes in the area from danger or damage from the mower


Physical Ability
Some mowers require great physical strength to operate the controls. Young children may not be able to reach the controls or move them to their full range of operation. Push mowers may require more physical effort than some children can sustain for long periods. Mower operators must have the physical ability to do the following:



  • Reach and operate the controls
  • Reach the handles
  • Push a push mower

Dressing Safely for Mowing

Clothing protects the mower operator from thrown objects and sun exposure. Earplugs protect hearing from the engine's and blades' loud noises. Safety glasses or goggles protect the eyes from dust, dirt, trash and small rocks thrown by the blade and the engine-cooling fan. Never wear anything that can be caught in the machine such as loose clothing or jewelry. Always tie back long hair. Following is a checklist of appropriate clothes and supplies to use to protect yourself while mowing:



  • Long pants
  • Close-fitting clothes
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Safety glasses
  • Sun protection
  • Earplugs

Handling Gasoline

Gasoline is extremely explosive. One gallon of gasoline has the explosive power of 33 sticks of dynamite. Flash fires can occur when refilling mowers that are hot or that are still operating. Careless smokers also can start flash fires. Remember the following rules for handling gasoline safely:



  • Fill before starting
  • Don't spill when you fill
  • Never refill a hot engine
  • Never remove a gasoline cap with the engine operating. Store gasoline in an approved and labeled container, never in food containers
  • Do not smoke near gasoline
  • Do not get near fires with gasoline
  • Never store gasoline in a home or a utility building, especially near gas hot water heaters

Operating the Mower Safely

Remember the following rules when operating a mower:



  • Always push, not pull, a push mower
  • Never mow when the grass is wet
  • Always keep feet from beneath the mower
  • Push a push mower across a slope
  • Always keep feet from beneath the mower
  • Operate a riding mower up and down steep slopes
  • Never leave a mower unattended with the engine operating

Parking the Mower

It is critical for safety that you to park the mower properly when the job is complete. Small children find mowers fascinating and like to mimic older siblings and parents. Children may start a mower while copying others and may be unable to stop the mower before injuring someone or causing property damage.

Attachments left in a raised position can pinch or mash feet and hands, or they can even crush an infant. Dry grass and debris can easily ignite from a hot muffler. Children may remove gas tank caps and try to look in. Following are safe practices for parking your mower after using it:



  • Lower raised components
  • Stop the engine
  • Remove the key and put it in a secure place
  • Remove all grass and debris
  • Service and clean as needed
  • Lock the storage room or garage

Maintaining the Equipment

Many injuries occur while the mower is being serviced or repaired. Never touch a hot engine, blades or other moving parts. Always stop the engine before making adjustments to the cutting height or making repairs. Before you use the blade or pull rope to turn the engine while making repairs, remove the spark plug wire; this practice will prevent the accidental starting of the engine. Removing the battery cable on an electric start mower prevents accidental starting. In order to maintain your lawn mower safely, you must know how to do the following:



  • Remove the spark plug wire to prevent accidental starting
  • Check or add the correct amount of oil
  • Fill the tank while not spilling the fuel
  • Check and adjust tire pressures, belts cutting height and blades

CASE STUDY: A 28 year old SSgt was mowing his yard with a push mower, while at the same time his son was riding a battery powered mini-scooter around the yard. When the side discharge of the mower became clogged with grass, the SSgt held down the "cut-off" lever (so the engine remained running) with his left hand while he reached with his right hand to free the grass clog. Simultaneously, his son was riding his mini-scooter toward some hedges with sharp branches, so the SSgt began yelling at his son to turn away from the hedges. The SSgt lost situational awareness with his right hand and it entered the mower blade area resulting in amputation to a finger.

Bottom Line:



  • Only use a power mower with a control that stops the mower if the handle is let go. This control should never be disconnected
  • Do not allow children younger than 14 to use riding mowers. Do not allow children younger than 12 to use walk-behind mowers
  • Make sure that sturdy shoes are worn while mowing