March 13, 2017

Spring is here and with it comes the weekly yard work and happy times spent outdoors. I remember as a youth earning money mowing lawns. The work was fun and the money was happily accepted. My father was my mower safety coach. Unfortunately, despite good teaching, I still burned myself on the engine by not paying attention to where I was touching.

As my son is now 13, he needs jobs to stay focused on a work and growth mindset. Yard work provides many of the important life skills for success including attention to detail, resilience and physical activity in nature. Yard work is taxing. That is a good thing.

Yard work is generally done with machines and there in lies the inherent risk to injury. Machines are great when used properly and deadly when not. My left index finger shows the scars of poor machine use. It is for these reasons that lawn mower and yard machine safety is necessary to prevent major injury that could effect a child's long term health and vitality.

In the United States, over the decade ending in 2013, over 90,000 young persons under 20 years old suffered a lawn mower injury. That equates to 180 per state per year or one injury every other day! That is a lot of preventable injury.

Amputations and fractures accounted for 12% of the injuries noted. While these are the most devastating injuries, others like burn and soft tissue damage are more common. There are clearly a few simple interventions that can dramatically reduce one's risk.

1) Keep all mower deck exit guards in place. The objects that leave the mower are traveling at speeds that could inflict serious damage. The deflector guards are there for a reason, use them.

2) Use good quality eye protection especially with weed whackers, blowers and devices that spit stuff.

3) Wear close toed shoes - preferably boots with thick soles, good traction and a leather outer layer. I can personally tell you that leather boots have saved me a few times from injured feet during weed whacking work.

4) Mow across a slope with a walk behind mower and up and down with a riding mower. Try not to go in reverse when the blades are engaged and spinning. You never know what is behind you that you cannot see.

5) Wear long pants and sleeves to protect against inadvertent flying objects.

6) Wear noise canceling headphones to protect your ears. Lawn mowers hit 100 dB which can seriously damage your ears.

7) Wear sunscreen with SPF 30 or more if you have sun exposed skin for longer than 20 minutes.

8) Drink lots of water on hot days. Dehydration is a real concern working outdoors in the Carolina heat.

9) Practice safe refueling technique and do not inhale the gasoline fumes. Not good for you. Use a funnel and fill the gas tank when the mower is off and cool. It is exceedingly rare, but a hot engine could ignite a gasoline drop that misses its mark.

10) Steer clear of hot mufflers as they will burn.

Mow, earn money and give a teenager a job.

Dr. M

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