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Mowing Made Safe

Pofessional Advice on Keeping Kids Safe Around Lawn Mowers

A fresh-cut lawn sets the perfect scene for summer memories. Backyard BBQs, a game of tag, or running through a sprinkler all start with the roar of a lawn mower. Lurking beneath the surface of this common routine lies a danger affecting thousands of children every year. Shriners Children's is raising awareness about the potential risks and necessary safety measures, and empowering parents and communities with the knowledge for prevention.

The statistics are alarming; annually, over 9,000 children find themselves in emergency rooms across the United States due to lawn mower injuries. Little hands, fingers, feet and toes are especially vulnerable – facing cuts, soft tissue injuries, fractures, burns and even amputations.

I’m able to relate to the patients, and it helps parents see that an accident doesn’t mean their child’s life is over.
Darren Rottman, POPS director, St. Louis

Darren Rottmann, manager of Pediatric Orthotics and Prosthetic Services (POPS) at Shriners Children's St. Louis, knows the dangers all too well. He became a Shriners Children's patient when he was just 3. Rottmann was in an accident involving a riding lawn mower that required a mid-calf amputation. His experience as a patient inspired him to enter the pediatric orthotics and prosthetics field as a technician, and eventually become the St. Louis POPS director. POPS helps design, fit and manufacture prosthetics and orthotics for children of all ages.

“Because of my accident and the fact that families can clearly see that I not only make prosthetics, but have one myself, I think it helps put their minds at ease. I’m able to relate to the patients, and it helps parents see that an accident doesn’t mean their child’s life is over. It might look different than they imagined, but their children can still live a full life,” said Darren.

Before you rev up that engine to create the perfect lawn stripes, let's go over some simple tips from Darren to keep your little ones safe.

Maturity & Age

  • Both push and riding lawn mowers are powerful machines that can cause life-threatening injuries. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, children should be at least 12 before operating a push mower, and 16 before using a riding lawn mower.
  • Don’t let your child mow the yard alone until you are confident they understand the rules. Parents should use their best judgment on whether their child is mature and capable enough to operate a mower independently; even after they reach the recommended age.

Safety First

  • Keep children inside or at a safe distance from the mower while it is running. We strongly advise parents to exercise caution immediately afterward as well, as mowers can become very hot – ensure your child does not touch them. Teach children that they are not toys. 
  • Children should never ride on lawn mowers with adults, even when the blades are off, as they may fall off or not know when it’s safe to approach. The most common patients seen in emergency situations are those who fall while someone else mows the lawn. 

Proper Prep

  • Clean up the yard before moving and remove all rocks, toys, sticks or other hazards. Mowing with debris in the yard could cause injury because any object lying on the ground could be propelled up to 200 miles per hour out of the mower’s discharge chute.
  • Wear long pants, gloves, goggles and closed-toe shoes when mowing. Even with careful cleaning of objects before mowing, mowers and trimmers can kick up rocks and sticks. Pants and long sleeves will help take the brunt of the impact, so your skin doesn't.

Last But Not Least - In An Emergency, Call 911

Even with safety measures, sometimes accidents happen, and that's why we're here to help. Shriners Children's continues to be a resource for patients. Our specially-trained orthotic and prosthetic specialists take the time to get to know each child. A visit to POPS is about more than measurements and mechanics; it is about sharing hopes and aspirations and providing information that allows the technicians to return to the lab and design the perfect device for each individual patient. Patients like Mollie, a 19-year-old who also experienced a mowing accident when she was 3, became a regular patient at POPS following a foot and ankle amputation.

"Shriners is such a great place and the staff has taught me so much. I'm especially thankful for the staff at POPS. They've been able to provide custom legs for me. One of my legs didn't have a slit in my toe for sandals, and Darren went out of his way to provide that. They've given me and my family a lot of strength and countless resources,"said Mollie.

Father mowing lawn while daughter, on a swing, watches