Ah, the smell of fresh-cut grass in summer. And it’s even better when accompanied by the satisfaction that you’ve done it yourself.
But mowing your lawn doesn’t come without hazards. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that lawn mower use resulted in more than 90,000 emergency room visits in 2016; more than 3,000 of those visits involved children age 14 and under. Not surprisingly, the most common types of accidents involve the mower’s moving parts, including the blade, as well as rollovers with riding mowers, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
But knowing how to operate your machine properly can help reduce the risks. Here are the steps to take.
1. Prep Your Equipment
When taking your mower out of seasonal storage, get it checked at a dealer or repair shop, as it may need a tune-up, says Kris Kiser, president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute. Make sure the machine has plenty of oil, the blade is sharpened, the engine is working properly, and that all safety guards are undamaged and secured.
2. Fuel It Right
Your lawn mower should always be turned off and allowed to cool significantly before fueling. (Wait at least five minutes after turning the mower off, advises OSHA.) Gas is combustible, and a mower can get hot enough to potentially start a fire or burn the person fueling it.
3. Pick The Right Time
Don’t mow your lawn during a storm, or even just after; wet grass is slippery, and it can clog the mower. Wait for a bright, sunny day and don’t start too close to sunset, to avoid mowing in the dark.
4. Clear Your Lawn
Before you begin, check the grass for gravel, sticks or other debris, which can get caught in the blade and fly out of the machine, injuring you or bystanders. While you’re at it, clear the area of pets and other people; lawn mowers can be loud, and you may not hear someone coming up behind you.
5. Delegate Wisely
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends that children not be allowed to operate push lawn mowers until the age of 12, and shouldn’t use riding mowers until they’re 16. And, adds Dr. Kevin Shea of the AAOS, children should never be allowed to ride as passengers on a riding mower.
6. Dress Appropriately
No matter how hot it is outside, be sure to wear proper gear. OSHA recommends the following: close-fitting clothing; no jewelry; long pants; sturdy, nonslip boots; and safety glasses. Hearing protection is strongly advised as well.
7. Consider The Terrain
While you mow, be mindful of changes in the terrain—especially if your yard is sloped. On a riding mower, always ride up and down any slopes, says Shea; driving parallel to them increases the risk of a rollover. With push mowers, however, it’s best to operate them across the slope, to reduce your chance of slipping.
8. Be Aware Of What’s Happening
While some mowers are designed to be pulled backward or operate in reverse, be extra careful before doing so. “Mowers are designed to move forward, because you can best see what you’re doing,” says Shea. The last thing you want is to have a pet or child run into your path unnoticed. If you’re operating a corded mower, he advises to always move away from the cord—never toward it.
9. Push Right
Most push mowers have a safety feature that switches the blade off when you’re not holding the handle. OSHA recommends going further and turning off the engine before you walk away or do anything to your mower besides cutting grass. A running mower is never safe to work on, even if the blade is still.
10. Hands Off
In general, never get your hand close to the blade for any reason, says Shea, even when the mower is turned off. Most mowers have instructions on how to clear obstructions; consult the manual. If nothing works, he says, take it to a repair shop.
11. Quitting Time
Before you put your lawn mower away, make sure the machine is clean and free of debris, and wait till it has cooled down to reduce fire risk, says Kiser. If there’s a key, remove it and take it with you.
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By Nicole Price Fasig