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The Dangers of 6 Common Lawn and Garden Tools

Summer wouldn't be the same without outdoor barbecues, flowers blooming alongside neatly trimmed bushes and being able to compare your new riding mower's 20-hp engine with your neighbor's. So while we here at encourage you to indulge in all of summer's grand and simple pleasures, we ask that you do so with a bit of safety in mind.

No one wants to spend a breezy summer day in the emergency room, but due to injuries from common lawn and garden tools, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says that a surprising number of people are doing just that.

Lawn mowers send nearly 80,000 Americans to the hospital every year.

According to CPSC, an estimated 230,000 people are treated in emergency rooms each year for injuries they sustained from lawn and garden tools. And while any tool (even a seemingly harmless garden trowel or hose) has the potential to cause harm if used carelessly, or left out where a child could find it, the following six lawn and garden tools are the ones that should only be used with your utmost care and caution.

1. Lawn Mower

Not only are close to 80,000 Americans injured badly enough by lawn mowers each year that they require hospital treatment, but the number is increasing, found a study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Who is getting injured most often? According to the researchers, children under 15 and adults age 60 or older.

Lawn mowers are dangerous not only because of their spinning blades, but also because debris can be propelled from them. Getting hit by such debris, such as rocks or branches, was one of the most common causes of lawn mower injuries, the study found.

"These are machines with sharp blades spinning at 160 miles per hour just inches away from our feet and hands. Everyone needs to respect the dangers and use common sense," said David Bishai, MD, PhD, MPH, senior author of the study and associate professor in the Department of Population and Family Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School.

To keep safe, Bishai recommended:

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

  • Clearing debris from the yard ahead of time.

  • Using care and wearing protective gloves when servicing the mower or changing blades (and never while it's running).

  • Not carrying passengers on riding mowers.

  • Not allowing children under 16 to operate a riding mower.

  • Mowing the lawn only in good weather conditions and avoiding doing so on very hot days.

  • Keeping children, pets and others away from the lawn while it's being cut.

2. Barbecue Grill

Out of the 66 million people who use a barbecue grill each season, some 20,000 will end up in the emergency room because of grill-related accidents.

Among the most serious are fires and explosions, of which the National Fire Protection Agency says occur some 6,000 times in an average year. The costs of these and other grill accidents adds up to $29 million in damages.

Runoff from greasy foods adds to fire risks, and children can easily get burned from touching an unattended grill. To reduce your risks:

  • Don't leave the grill while you're cooking, or while it's still hot.

  • Make sure your grill is in good working condition. If it's over 10 years old, you may want to replace it, as newer grills have improved safety features.

  • Remove new propane tanks from your vehicle immediately, as hot weather can make them leak.

  • Keep children away from the grill at all times. The HearthGate barbecue protection gate is ideal for this.

3. Garden Chipper or Shredder

Chippers and shredders are excellent tools to reduce branches into mulch (the former) or leaves and other organic matter into compost (the latter). But, similar to a lawn mower, these machines have sharp, quickly spinning blades that can easily cause harm.

Recently, a Connecticut man was almost dragged into a chipper when a rope attached to a branch caught his foot as the branch was being fed into the machine. Fortunately, his co-workers quickly shut the machine off, but he still received a serious head injury.

Aside from this obvious risk of getting limbs or fingers too close to these machines' blades, there is also a risk of flying debris and, as some of these machines can be very loud, long-term damage to hearing. If you are going to operate a chipper or shredder, it's essential that you:


If you use a protective gate, like the HearthGate Barbecue and Fireplace Protection Gate, you can grill in peace knowing that kids and pets won't get too close to the heat.]

  • Wear protective clothing such as goggles, gloves and earplugs. Be sure you are not wearing loose-fitting clothing that could get caught in the machine.

  • Keep your hands and fingers clear of the blade. Don't take chances! If you need to feed something into the machine, use a stick to push it in.

  • Make sure that rocks or other hard material are not fed into the chute.

  • IF you every need to service or unclog the machine, UNPLUG it before putting your hands anywhere near the blade. Otherwise, it's possible to accidentally switch it back on when your hands are inside.

  • Keep children and pets away from a chipper/shredder at all times.

  • Only operate these machines when you are free from distractions.

4. Chainsaw

Some 36,000 people are treated in emergency rooms each year because they have been injured by a chainsaw, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Chainsaws are often used for pruning, felling tees, and cutting up branches or logs. The dangers of these powerful tools are three-fold:

  • The blades can quickly lacerate arms, legs or digits.

  • Debris can fall or be propelled onto the operator.

  • The loud noise they create can cause long-term hearing damage.

To operate a chainsaw safely, the CDC recommends the following precautions:

  • Make sure the blades are properly sharpened and lubricated.

  • Choose the proper size chainsaw for the job.

  • Only use chainsaws that have safety features such as a chain brake, hand guards (front and rear), stop switch, chain catcher and spark arrester.

  • Wear a hard hat, goggles, hearing protection, work gloves and chainsaw chaps (legwear that is resistant to cuts).

  • Make sure bystanders are a safe distance away, at least 30 feet, or, if felling a tree, at least two tree lengths away.

  • Pay attention to the branches you are cutting -- if they are under tension they can snap back and cause serious injury.

5. Pruning Shears/Weed Wackers

Even seemingly innocent flowerpots can be dangerous if you try to lift one that's too heavy.

One wrong cut with a pruning shear or weed wacker can easily sever a finger or toe. Further, it's also easy to get strained or cut, or to fall off a ladder, if you attempt to reach too far while pruning. When using pruning shears or a weed wacker, always:

  • Know where you hands, fingers and feet are -- don't make a cut until you do!

  • Wear heavy gloves and close-toed shoes.

  • Don't strain to reach a far-off spot; move the ladder or yourself instead.

  • Make sure the blades are sharp.

  • Don't try to cut a branch that's too big for the tool.

6. Flowerpots

Yes, flowerpots. According to the UK's Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, flowerpots are the second most dangerous garden tool, after lawn mowers. Why? Because a filled flowerpot, and even some empty ones, are heavy, and many of us try to move them in ways we shouldn't. Back strains and sprains are the result. Flowerpots are also prime tripping hazards. What can you do?

  • Don't attempt to lift a heavy flowerpot by yourself.

  • Put the pot where you want it, then fill it.

  • Always use a wheelbarrow or other device to transport the pot where you need it.

  • Keep flowerpots out of heavily trafficked areas so they won't pose a tripping hazard.

  • Keep flowerpots off of counters or ledges where they could fall on children or pets.


Recommended Reading


Consumer Affairs: Lawn Mower Injuries Increase Nationwide

ABC News: Kill Grill Dangers

The Connecticut Post Online: May 5, 2006

CDC: Preventing Chainsaw Injuries

The Times Online May 6, 2006

Consumer Affairs: Lawn and Garden Safety Tips

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