Lawn Mowers: An Early Season Safety Checklist

Like a bullfrog announcing the onset of summer, the drone of lawn mowers soon will fill the air. If you plan to cut grass this season, keep safety in mind.

"Each year in the United States, mower injuries result in tens of thousands of emergency room admissions," says Jim Garthe, instructor in agricultural engineer in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"As with any tool, lawn mowers can injure people or damage property whether or not they are operated safely," Garthe says. "By striving for safety, using common sense, taking your time, and having respect for the machinery, you can help keep your property intact and your anatomy in one piece.

"Before starting the mower, ensure that adjustable items, such as the wheels and handle, are set to the proper height," he says. "Trying to adjust almost anything on the go increases the odds that the mower will jump up and bite you," Garthe adds.

Check the blade. "It should be straight, sharp and free of nicks," Garthe says. "Dull blades tear rather than cut the grass. Badly bent blades are a hazard not only because they can cause vibration and ensuing mechanical failures, but they also do a poor job of cutting and can place the tip of the blade below the lower edge of the mower deck. This puts the blade in a position to pick up rocks and debris, not to mention toes that may be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Before you begin mowing, check the lawn for obstacles such as sticks, stones and toys. "Even small rotary lawn mowers can fling objects at speeds of more than 200 miles per hour," Garthe says. "A quick walk through the yard will minimize the chance that you or someone else will be hit by flying debris."

Garthe offers additional safe mowing guidelines:

  • Start the mower on level ground, and if it's a rope starter, always keep one foot on the proper location on the deck.
  • Let a hot engine cool for 5 minutes before fueling.
  • Fill the fuel tank outdoors and move the fuel container away from the mower when starting it.
  • Make sure discharge chutes, deflector shields and baggers are securely in place.
  • Wear protective shoes and clothing, including eye and ear protection.
  • Keep bystanders -- such as children or pets -- at a safe distance, at least 100 feet.
  • Never reach into the discharge area to unclog the chute.
  • Patience is a virtue while mowing. Rest if you feel fatigued.

After mowing, Garthe recommends taking a moment for some basic mower upkeep. "Let the mower cool, then remove the dirt and damp grass from under the mower deck. You'll double the life of the mower deck if you do this as a matter of habit. It's a hassle, but it works. To prevent accidental engine ignition, disconnect the spark plug wire before reaching under the mower.

"Watch for signs of wear or fracture anywhere on the machine," Garthe says. "If something looks amiss, either replace it or fix it immediately. Don't wire it or tape it together. Remember, duct tape on the machine often can lead to surgical tape on your body."

For riding mowers, at the end of the grass-cutting season, drain the fuel tank, change the oil and remove and store the battery in a dry place. Keep the mower in a dry, protected location until it's needed again.

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