Parents and caregivers working on their lawns this summer may see no harm in giving a child a quick lift on a riding mower or letting a toddler push a plastic mowing toy alongside the real machine.
But local physicians and child health organizations say the practice is just a bad idea – and one that could lead to serious injury.
“People think that’s OK because we did that when we were kids, but that’s a common way that kids are injured or even killed,” according to pediatrician Jennifer Crosse, who says she and her colleagues at Mid-Kansas Pediatric Associates in Wichita and Derby see at least a few kids each year who were injured after they got too close to lawn equipment.
“Lawn mowers are very attractive to kids. They are big and loud and have wheels,” she said.
The injuries “can be life-changing. But they are completely preventable.”
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2010 about 253,000 people nationwide sought treatment for lawn mower-related injuries, ranging from minor cuts and scrapes to crushed bones and severed limbs.
About 17,000 of those were children.
Locally, lawn mower injuries made headlines last week when an 18-month-old girl’s leg was partially severed below her knee after she got in the path of a push mower at a northwest Wichita home day care. Police say the 39-year-old woman who ran the day care was watching five children, ages 1 to 3, and was cutting the grass in the backyard when the girl was hurt.
The toddler has since been taken to a Kansas City hospital in an attempt to save the limb. Her condition was unknown Saturday.
Crosse said most of the lawn mowing injuries she encounters in children in her practice are “very minor” and usually are caused by objects kicked up lawnmower blades.
For Joe Davidson, a family medicine physician at West Wichita Family Physicians, the most commonly treated injuries in children are burns, usually from hot mufflers or mower engines.
“The number of amputations, either fingers or toes, have really decreased as lawn mowers have become safer,” Davidson said, noting that kids who suffer those injuries would likely be seen first in a hospital emergency room rather than a doctor’s office.
“But like a lot of things, human error is one thing you can’t legislate or engineer against.”
Physicians and several child health organizations say the best thing adults can do to keep kids out of harm’s way during lawn care season is to keep them inside the house or far enough away from equipment that they won’t get hurt.
They also suggest:
Clearing stones, twigs and other objects from the lawn to prevent flying debris.
Locking up lawn mowers not in use to prevent curious children from starting them.
Not allowing children to ride on a riding lawn mower or walking near a push mower, even with adult supervision.
The person operating the mower avoid all distractions
Assessing the maturity and strength of older children before allowing them to mow; the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children be at least 12 before operating a walk-behind power mower or hand mower and 16 to operate a riding mower.
Making older children wear closed-toed shoes, goggles and other safety gear when mowing.
“Common sense needs to be engaged before the lawn mower is engaged,” Davidson said.
“Using judgment and reading a situation trumps all.”
What to do
Follow these tips if your child is injured by a lawn mower.
Wichita pediatrician Jennifer Crosse said parents or caregivers whose children have been hurt by lawn care equipment should seek treatment from a medical professional.
For minor abrasions, cuts and punctures, wash the injured area with soap and water, then apply a bandage to prevent infection, she said. A follow-up visit to a doctor may be necessary.
Children suffering more traumatic injuries, such as severed limbs or deep puncture wounds, should also receive basic first aid, Crosse said, but they need to be taken immediately to a doctor’s office or hospital emergency room.
“And obviously, even if it is a puncture or abrasions, we want to make sure kids have their tetanus shots up to date,” she said.