Every year, approximately 37,000 people are injured in lawn mower accidents – and 9000 of them are children. As a plastic surgeon at the UVM Medical Center, I see the devastating effects of these injuries: reconstructive surgery, long hospital stays, permanent disfigurement and disability, or even amputation of a body part.

Keeping young children inside during the warm summer months may be difficult, but it’s the most important thing you can do to keep them safe while you are mowing the lawn. When the mower is running, you can’t hear or see your child (if he or she is behind you). There’s the risk that you might accidentally run over your child’s hand or foot if he or she is playing too close to the mower, or if the lawn is wet and your child slips under the mower. Also, there’s always the chance that a stick or a stone will fly out of the mower and strike your child. Finally, it’s very important to use extreme care when approaching blind corners, shrubs, and trees, or other objects that may block your view of your child.

Riding mowers can be particularly dangerous. Many of the mower injuries that we see each summer involve a child who has been backed over by a riding mower. Since 2003, riding mowers have been required by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to have the mowing blade disengage while in reverse, but this is not true for older models.

It’s also not a good idea to let your child co-pilot the riding mower. Riding mowers are not designed for two people. You may think your child is safe in your lap, but there’s always the chance that he or she will fall off and slide under the mower. Although most mowers have a safety feature that stops the engine when the rider falls off, that feature will only be activated if you fall off – not your child. Please see the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s guide for safe operation of riding lawn mowers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents not to allow children under the age of 16 to operate riding mowers, and suggests that no child under the age of 12 use a push mower. Please see the Academy’s recommendations for children and lawn mowers here: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/pages/Lawnmower-Safety.aspx.

Don Laub,MD, a plastic surgeon at the UVM Medical Center, is interim division chief of Plastic Surgery and a professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.

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