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Rural children, particularly in Midwest, are at higher risk for devastating lawnmower injuries, study finds

The rate in the Midwest was twice as high as in the Northeast and almost five times higher as in the Western United States.

Lawnmower
The study found that the incident rate of lawnmower injuries among children was about five times higher in rural areas than in urban ones.
Photo by Daniel Watson on Unsplash

Among the thousands of American children and teenagers who are injured by lawnmowers each year, those living in rural areas are most at risk, according to a study published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

The study also found that states in the South and the Midwest account for more than 80 percent of those injuries.

“Lawnmower injuries are largely preventable, but despite increased awareness, my colleagues and I continue to see a significant number of cases from May through October, some of which can be truly devastating,” says Dr. Theodore Ganley, the study’s senior author and an orthopedic surgeon in Philadelphia, in a released statement.

As background information in the study points out, more than 9,000 American children and teens are treated for lawnmower injuries in hospitals each year — a number that has remained stubbornly unchanged for the last two to three decades. The injuries are often traumatic, leading to amputations and sometimes death. In fact, the percentage of lawnmower injuries among children requiring hospitalization is twice as high as for any other consumer product-related injury.

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The current study was undertaken to better understand which children are most at risk from lawnmower injuries so that public health strategies can be more effective at getting the number of injuries down.

Study details

For the study, Ganley and his colleagues used data collected between 2005 and 2017 by the Pediatric Health Information System, a database from 49 children’s hospitals located around the country.  During that 13-year period, 1,302 children aged 18 and younger were treated at those hospitals for lawnmower-related injuries.

Most of the injured children were boys (79 percent) and white (75 percent). Almost half were between 1 and 5 years old.

“This suggests that these accidents occurred because of a lack of oversight or parental error involving children/babies who had not yet development the judgment and ability to avoid and recognize the dangers of lawnmowers,” the researchers write.

The overwhelming majority of injuries involved arms or legs. The most common injuries — which occurred in about a third of the cases — were amputations, followed by puncture wounds and fractures or dislocations.

JAAOS - Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons28(9):e387-e394, May 1, 2020.
“These injuries impart a physical and psychosocial burden on patients and their families,” says Ganley. “While people might assume that injuries are just related to the lawnmower’s blades, injuries also occur from projectiles such as rocks or sticks that eject from the lawnmower and burns due to touching a hot lawnmower after use.”

As the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) points out on its website, “A typical 26-inch lawn mower blade traveling at 3,000 rotations per minute possesses three times the muzzle kinetic energy of a .357 magnum pistol slug. That’s enough energy to fire a bullet through the engine block of an automobile. … The force certainly is enough to impale objects into a child’s body, even from a good distance away.”

“Because of these potential hazards,” says Ganley, “one of the safest things you can do is make sure children are inside when a lawnmower is in operation, regardless if it’s a riding or a push mower.”

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Geographic disparities

The study also found that the incident rate of lawnmower injuries among children was about five times higher in rural areas than in urban ones. Children in rural areas also experienced higher rates of hospitalizations, infections and surgical complications. They had a 1.7 higher risk of having an amputation.

The children injured in rural areas also tended to be younger. Six of 10 lawnmower injuries in rural areas involved children aged 1 to 5 years old. That compared with about four in 10 in urban areas.

“Lawnmower injuries in rural areas often result in worse outcomes,” the researchers note. They cite several possible reasons: the greater use of large, riding lawnmowers, the longer time to reach a hospital, and cultural attitudes toward lawn mowing that raise the risk for children.

Heat map of lawnmower injuries by region. Darker shades indicate higher incidence. Major locations of PHIS hospitals are shown as dots.
JAAOS - Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons28(9):e387-e394, May 1, 2020.
Heat map of lawnmower injuries by region. Darker shades indicate higher incidence. Major locations of PHIS hospitals are shown as dots.
“I personally encourage parents not to give toddlers rides on lawnmowers for fun because when a child hears the mower, they are likely to run outside for a ride and the operator might not see or hear them,” warns Ganley.

The incidence rate of lawnmower injuries involving children was also higher in the South and Midwest than elsewhere in the country. In fact, the rate in the Midwest was twice as high as in the Northeast and almost five times higher as in the Western United States.

“The high frequency of injuries in the Midwest could possibly be explained by an increased prevalence of riding lawnmowers because they allow larger land areas to be covered,” the researchers write. “Larger lawns also allow an increased opportunity to mow, which may increase risk of injury.”

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Prevention is key

Lawnmower injuries are preventable. The AAP recommends that children be at least 12 years old before operating a walk-behind power mower and at least 16 years old before operating a riding lawn mower. The organization has also compiled a list of safety tips for parents, including the following:

      • Make sure that children are indoors or at a safe distance well away from the area that you plan to mow.
      • Never allow children to ride as passengers on ride-on lawn mowers or garden tractors.
      • Watch for objects that could be picked up and thrown by the mower blades, as well as hidden dangers. Tall grass can hide objects, holes or bumps. Use caution when approaching corners, trees or anything that might block your view.
      • Do not pull the mower backwards or mow in reverse unless absolutely necessary, and carefully look for children behind you when you mow in reverse.
      • Keep in mind that lawn trimmers also can throw objects at high speed.
      • Remain aware of where children are and do not allow them near the area where you are working. Children tend to be attracted to mowers in use.

FMI:  The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is an open-access journal, so you can read the study in full  at its website. For the full list of the AAP’s lawnmower safety tips, go to that organization’s website.