Healthy Living

Safety Tips: Things to Know Before You Mow

Jun. 27, 2017

For most people, mowing the lawn is a routine chore. But every summer, adults and children lose limbs—and some lose their lives—in tragic and easily preventable lawnmower accidents. UR Medicine orthopaedic trauma surgeon Dr. John Gorczyca shares safety reminders to help you avoid mowing lawn

More than 80,000 people are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for lawn mower-related injuries each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Children under age 19 account for nearly 13,000 of these injuries. An estimated 800 children are run over by riding mowers or small tractors each year—and more than 600 of those accidents require amputation. For children under 10, lawnmowers are the most common cause of limb loss.

Some simple precautions may help keep summer safe for you and your loved ones.

If you use a walk-behind mower:

  • Have your mower serviced before using it each season to ensure that it is working properly.
  • Avoid mowing on wet grass, when your feet can slip under the mower and get caught in the blade.
  • Wear sturdy footwear with good tread on the sole to ensure good footing while mowing, and to help protect your feet in case they do come in contact with the lawnmower engine housing or blade.
  • Protect your eyes and ears—wear shatter-resistant glasses or sunglasses, and ear muffs or plugs while mowing.
  • Keep children and pets away from the area you’re mowing.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children should be at least 12 years of age before operating a push lawn mower, and be 16 before using a riding lawn mower.
  • Clear the yard of objects—stones, garden tools, etc. that could be thrown by the mower and cause injury. Watch for items like wire or rope that could tangle in the blade and prevent it from turning—efforts to release stuck blades are a common source of lawnmower injuries to the hands. 
  • Fill the gas tank before mowing; never refuel when the engine is running or hot.
  • Adjust the cutting height before you start the engine, never when the blade is in motion.
  • Push the mower forward, never pull it backward.
  • Shut off the motor when you need to check the engine or the undercarriage of the mower.
  • Remember that the blade can still injure you even with the engine shut off—especially if you release a jammed mower blade.
  • If mowing on slopes, mow across the slopes, not up and downhill.

If you use a riding mower or tractor, keep in mind that models built before 1987 lack some safety features, such as an operator presence control that will stop the blades from turning when you leave your normal operating position. Newer mowers also have limits on turning radius for better machine stability, and higher seats.

Whatever the age of your riding mower, follow these safety tips:

  • Clear the lawn of objects that could be picked up and thrown by the blade.
  • Never allow children to sit anywhere on the mower or on your lap while the machine is on, and make sure they are away from the mowing area when you are mowing.
  • Avoid sudden turns; slow and wide turns reduce the chance of a tip-over.
  • Drive up and down slopes, not across (which is the opposite of what is safest with a walk-behind mower).
  • If the machine stops when you are moving uphill, shut off the blade first, then back straight down the hill slowly. Before backing up, look down and behind the machine.
  • Always keep guards, shields, switches and safety devices in operation.
  • As with a walk-behind mower, fill the gas tank of your riding mower before use; never refuel when the engine is running or hot.
  • Adjust the cutting height before you start the engine, never when the blade is in motion.
  • Read and follow the operator's manual.

And finally, whether you have a push or riding mower, consider your ability to operate this powerful machine safely. If you have walking/balance problems, or find that you’re having more difficulty handling a riding mower, it may be time to turn the mowing duties over to a family member or lawn service.


John Gorczyca, M.D.


John Gorczyca, M.D., is the Dr. C. McCollister Evarts Professor of Orthopaedics at UR Medicine and chief of the Trauma Division in the Department of Orthopaedics. He is a traumatologist, an orthopaedic surgeon who treats difficult fractures, complex injuries, and fractures that fail to heal or heal incorrectly. Other orthopaedic trauma specialists at UR Medicine are Catherine Humphrey, M.D.; John Ketz, M.D.; Gillian Soles, M.D., and Kyle Judd, M.D.