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By Beth Botts

RISMEDIA, June 11, 2008-(MCT)-It’s easy to take the power mower for granted and forget how dangerous it is. A recent Consumer Reports poll found that 12% of surveyed homeowners drink beer while mowing their lawns. Maybe that’s a contributing factor in some of the 85,700 injuries from walk-behind and riding lawn mowers that the Consumer Product Safety Commission says are treated in U.S. emergency rooms each year. The top cause of injuries is flying debris, according to the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, a trade organization in Alexandria, Va. But riding mowers are most deadly, causing about 95 deaths a year, compared to three deaths a year from walk-behind mowers, the CPSC says.

Here are some tips for operating a power mower as safely as possible; for more, see the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute’s website,

1. Know your machine. Read the instruction manual and follow it, says Kris Kiser, vice president of public affairs for the OPEI. Maintain the mower. Don’t disable any safety devices, such as blade guards, even if they annoy you; each safeguard was invented because someone got hurt. Never attempt to free a jammed blade without first removing the spark plug on a gas mower or unplugging an electric mower.

2. Dress properly. Wear sturdy shoes and long pants. Don’t wear flip-flops or baggy clothes that could get caught in the blade. Protect your eyes with safety glasses or goggles.

3. Guard your ears. A power mower can exceed 85 decibels, enough to cause permanent hearing loss over time, says Jim Battey, director of the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders in Bethesda, Md. Yet 79% of homeowners in the Consumer Reports poll said they rarely or never wear ear protection. Earmuff-style headphones or tight-fitting earplugs significantly reduce the danger. If you are listening to music, don’t crank it up loud enough to drown out the mower, especially with ear buds; the music, then, can damage your hearing. Get a pair of noise-canceling headphones so you can keep the volume lower, Battey suggests.

4. Clear the area. Go over the lawn and pick up all toys, sticks, rocks, dishes, trash and anything else that could be shredded or flung by the blade. Then clear the lawn of children, so they won’t run in the mower’s path and you won’t be distracted from focusing on safe mowing by their noise or activity. Make sure you know the positions of hidden obstacles, such as sprinkler heads and stumps. An area of mulch around trees and shrubs will help you remember not to run into them (and it also protects the plants from the mower).

5. Ride alone. Don’t carry children (or anyone else) on a riding mower. “It’s not a play toy,” Kiser says. The mower can tip or children can fall off. And if you teach children to think of the machine as fun, they may be tempted to try to ride it themselves when you are not around.

© 2008, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.