The Medical Minute: Preventing lawn mower injuries in children

As many as 7,000 children younger than 16 are injured in lawn mower accidents in the United States every year.

According to Dr. William Hennrikus of Penn State Hershey Bone and Joint Institute, many injuries are not to mower operators but to children who run out into the yard as an adult is cutting the grass or who are passengers on ride-on mowers.

Children are typically hurt when their feet and legs are caught by the blades after falling near or from the mowers. Hennrikus said the most common injury is a severe laceration or partial amputation of the lower body.

Hennrikus, a former chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Orthopedic Society, suggests several safe lawn mowing habits.

According to the AAP, children allowed to mow the lawn should be at least 12 years old if operating a push mower or at least 16 if using a ride-on mower. These ages are general guidelines for parents. Additionally, the child's abilities and maturity level along with their size should be considered.

"Some children are smaller in size and they should probably wait until they're older to consider being in the backyard cutting the lawn with a push mower," Hennrikus said.

Children should never sit as passengers on ride-on mowers and, in general, children should not be in the yard when an adult is cutting the lawn.

"If a child runs out into the area where you're cutting the lawn, turn off the lawn mower and clear the area before turning it on again," he said.

Some additional tips:

-- Before cutting the grass, clear the lawn of toys, rocks and other debris that can turn into projectiles if run over by the mower. Walk through the grassy area to clear it first.

-- Don't compromise feet by wearing flimsy flip-flops. Wear only sturdy shoes that cover the feet.

-- Review the owner's manual before use or when teaching a teen to use a mower, regardless of the style of mower.

-- Most manufacturers recommend to not go in reverse and to not cut wet grass or use a mower in the rain.

-- If cutting grass on a slope or hill with a push mower, go side to side; if using a ride-on, go up and down and be cautious of turns since these models can flip.

-- Use goggles or other safety glasses to protect the eyes when using any kind of lawn care or landscaping equipment. Hennrikus advises caution when using noise canceling headphones or other means of hearing protection since a child may not be heard if they run out into the yard while the lawn mower is on.

For more information, visit aap.org or the AAP site for parents at http://www.healthychildren.org/English/News/Pages/Summer-Safety-Tips-Staying-Safe-Outdoors.aspx.

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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Last Updated June 26, 2014