Lawn mower safety

Published 1:02 pm Saturday, May 30, 2015

To the Editor:

Last week my wife and I were returning from Norfolk; along 58, just west of Holland, I saw a man mowing grass with a lawn tractor while carrying a kid in his arms. The kid appeared to be about one year old and seemed to be enjoying the ride with the presumed father. I am sure the ride was a moment of special bonding for the father, one in which he could provide care and entertainment for the kid with negligible interference to the completion of his chore of cutting the grass. I wanted to turn around and tell the father a story about a similar kid, who lived in Harrisonburg, Pennsylvania, a few years ago. We will call this kid Benny. This is a true story.

Benny was 18 months old. He routinely stayed with Grandma and Grandpa while Mother and Father worked at their regular day jobs. The grandparents adored Benny and, as grandparents do, they did everything in their power to keep him happy. Benny loved to ride with Grandpa while cutting grass. After lunch one spring day, Grandma put Benny down for his nap and went into her sewing room for a little stitching. Grandpa thought it such a beautiful day that he would cut the grass. After a short while, Grandma checked on the little boy and found him asleep. Papa was enjoying the day, cutting grass in his grand yard and having a brief after lunch smoke on his pipe.

Unknown to either of them, Benny awoke and slipped out the door into the yard where Grandpa was cutting grass. At the time the mower was being maneuvered around the shrubs. Benny slipped up behind the mower; his call to Grandpa was unheard over the sounds of the mower. Tragically, Benny’s screams were heard moments later. Grandpa, not knowing that he was in there, reversed the mower away from the shrubs, backing the mower on little Benny. Benny lost both feet in this horrible accident. Fortunately, he survived, but will spend his life on artificial feet. Unfortunately, the grandparents will never forgive themselves.

The lesson here is that lawn mowers can be very dangerous. There is no place on them to safely accommodate riders. Small children love to be included, especially when there is a ride involved. They are not capable of recognizing the dangers involved in mower operation. Unfortunately, many people, like the grandfather in this case and the one I witnessed outside of Holland, do not realize that riding small children on lawn mowers may be a significant safety hazard. It provides incentives for the child to think of the mower as a toy and as a result, they frequently cry to ride every time the engine is started.

In my 25+ years as an engineer involved in safety for a major American corporation, I have studied the operational risks and hazards of many pieces of outdoor equipment. Serious injury or death can occur when machinery is carelessly operated. Please read and observe the safety warnings in the operator’s manual of your mower. They are put there because somebody, such as you, was injured doing what the manual warns you not to do.

I hope the beauty and glory of a wonderful spring is not marred by an injury to you or your loved one by careless operations of your lawn mower. Be careful, be smart!

Everett Williams