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Mowing Missteps : Cutting corners when it comes to yard safety can be costly

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Ronda Ramsdell, 48, of DeKalb stretches to reach the last inch of grass along the sidewalk of her home on Vienna Street on Tuesday morning. According to a 2006 study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the number of lawn mower-related injuries is rising. To prevent injuries, Ramsdell said she takes precautions. “I always mow away from the house so the blower is toward the street, so in case things are whipping, I don’t hit someone coming out,” she said. “I also put my safe shoes on today — I came out wearing flip-flops and I knew I needed to change.” KATE WEBER CARLSON | kcarlson@daily-chronicle.com

dherra@daily-chronicle.com As Jon Miller of DeKalb finished trimming his Taylor Street home's lawn Tuesday morning, he shared some of his thoughts about the consequences of careless mowing. “It can get pretty dangerous if you're lollygagging,” the 63-year-old Miller said. “It's an easy job and everyone does it, but the one time you start daydreaming, it's gonna bite you.” About 85,000 Americans land in hospital emergency rooms with injuries sustained while mowing the lawn, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And the authors of a 2006 study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health concluded the number of injuries is rising, with most happening to people younger than 15 or older than 60. “People know what they should do but they don't do it,” said Tom Newquist, owner of DeKalb Lawn & Equipment Co. Inc. in DeKalb. “You see people in their sandals, no eye protection.” Because people mow the lawn so frequently without incident, they tend to forget how dangerous lawn mowers can be, Newquist said. He knows several stories of people whose sandal-clad feet became entangled beneath a mower. “Usually they're on a hill pulling the mower backwards and they slip and slide beneath it because their soles are slick,” he said. Though foot trauma is the most common injury requiring hospitalization, according to the Johns Hopkins study, most lawn mower injuries are caused by flying debris. The cutting edge of a mower blade can spin at up to 200 miles per hour, and rocks, sticks or other items caught in the blade can fly out just as fast. “You always want to make sure you move any sticks or rocks, and wear eye protection,” Newquist said. “The safest way to mow is to have a unit full of oil with a sharp blade and a nice clean area to mow.” About 10,000 children younger than 15 land in the emergency room every year with mower-related injuries, and not all of them were mowing the lawn, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. About 24 percent of children hurt by lawn mowers between 1990 and 1999 were younger than 5, according to an AAP report. More than 7 percent of lawn mower-related injuries to children require hospitalization, about twice the rate for consumer product-related injuries overall, according to the report. While two-thirds of the injuries happen while the mower is running, the remaining one-third happen while the mower is off, during maintenance or storage, the report said.

Lawn mower safety • Keep hands and feet away from all moving parts. • Clear the lawn before you start: remove sticks, rocks, toys and other debris. • Keep children and pets away from the area while you mow: it protects them and keeps you from being distracted. • Teach children to leave the mower alone. • Never allow passengers on a riding mower. The machine could tip or the passenger could fall off. • Keep your mower well-maintained. • Know your machine: read the owner's manual and don't disable safety devices like blade guards. • Never try to free a jammed blade without first unplugging an electric mower or removing the spark plug on a gas mower. • Wear shoes, long pants, eye protection and earplugs or headphones. Be careful while listening to music; if you just crank up the volume to drown out the mower, you could still cause hearing loss. • Know your lawn and where hidden obstacles, like sprinkler heads and stumps, may be.
Sources: Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, Tom Newquist of DeKalb Lawn & Equipment.

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