Emergency departments at U.S. hospitals treated more than 80,000 lawn mower injuries in 2004, and many of those accidents might have been preventable.

A report in the Annals of Emergency Medicine’s advance online issue tracks hospital-treated lawn mower injuries in the U.S. from 1996-2004.

During that time, emergency rooms treated nearly 663,400 lawn mower injuries and almost 12,000 people were hospitalized for lawn mower injuries.

Flying debris was a major hazard. Other injuries happened while people were trying to fix lawn mowers or even stumbling over idle lawn mowers. Many injured people were bystanders, including kids.

The researchers who conducted the study were Vanessa Costilla of Rice University and David Bishai, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Mower Safety Tips

In a news release, Bishai offers these tips for safe mowing:

--Wear goggles, long pants, and close-toed shoes with gripped soles while mowing.

--Clear the yard of debris before mowing.

--Keep everyone, especially small children, away from the yard while mowing.

--Think twice before mowing if you have a history of chest, back, or joint pain.

--Use care and wear protective gloves while servicing mowers or changing blades. Never service the mower while it’s running.

--Get help, if needed, to lift the mower.

--Mow only in good weather conditions, avoiding high heat.

--Don’t use riding mowers on steep hills or embankments.

--Don’t carry passengers on riding mowers. Don’t tow passengers behind the mower.

--Don’t allow children younger than 16 to operate riding mowers.

--Store lawn mowers in an area with minimal traffic and not accessible to kids.

Who Got Hurt

Far more men than women were affected. For instance, men were hospitalized more than five times more often than women, the study shows.

People in their 60s had the highest injury rate for push mowers, while those 70 and older had the highest injury rate for riding mowers.

However, kids younger than 15 also had a “substantial” injury rate, Costilla and Bishai write.

“It is these injuries that we, and numerous others, believe to be completely preventable if children could be kept away from lawn mowers,” the researchers add.

Slightly older children were also among the injured. Teens aged 15-19 had the highest hospitalization rate for mower injuries from 1996-2003, the study shows.

Rising Injuries?

Figures came from two large databases. One of those databases tracks patients discharged from hospitals. The other database, kept by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, records emergency department visits related to consumer products.

The databases don’t overlap exactly. But “there appears to be an increasing trend in the incidence of lawn mower injuries in this country, a clear indication that not enough is being done to prevent lawn mower injuries,” the researchers write.

The study doesn’t show how many people had mower-related accidents that weren’t treated at hospitals.

Students could learn safe mowing in household safety classes at school, while videos might help parents, the researchers note.

Types of Injury

Having fractured toes was the most common diagnosis requiring hospitalization, followed by amputated toes. The most common medical procedure required for hospitalization was for intensive surgical cleaning of wounds, infections, or burns.

Most emergency room visits were due to cuts, often caused when debris from under the mower hit a body part, the researchers note. Injuries also happened when people did these things:

--Ran over an extremity (hand or foot)

--Serviced mowers that were turned off (often while replacing motor blades)

--Serviced mowers that were running (such as clearing brush from the mower)

--Tripped over a stored mower

--Sustained physical stress from mowing

--Touched hot surfaces on the mower Fell on slippery surfaces while mowing

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Costilla, V. Annals of Emergency Medicine, advance online edition. News release, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. News release, American College of Emergency Physicians.