Outdoor Power Equipment, Small Engine, Lawn Mower Repairs, Troubleshooting and Safety
Even though millions of homeowners routinely use power lawnmowers every year
without mishap, there is still a fairly constant parade of people into hospital
emergency rooms with injuries from walk-behind powermowers. Most often, patients
are treated for minor injuries and released. However, emergency surgery is
sometimes required to treat severe injuries resulting from hand or foot contact
with the rotating blade; toe amputations are not uncommon with homeowners
cutting grass. In 1986, some 37,000 people were treated in hospital emergency
rooms for mower injuries, according to recent estimates by the U.S. Consumer
Product Safety Commission.
Ever since the Commission's founding in 1973,
walk-behind power rotary lawnmowers have been the subject of ongoing research by
engineering, human factors, economists and epidemiological personnel. Their
efforts were instrumental in developing the federal safety standard for power
mowers which took effect June 30, 1982. All walk behind power rotary lawnmowers
manufactured since then must meet new safety requirements designed to reduce
hand and foot contact with the moving blade.
For example, with most
rotary mowers built before June 1982, the blade rotated as long as the engine
was operating. Problems arose when wet grass clippings jammed the discharge
chute. In these situations, the owner's manual emphasized that the engine should
be shut down first, and that the blade should be allowed to come to a complete
stop before the user reached into the discharge chute to remove the
To avoid having to restart the engine, users frequently
allowed the motor to operate while they tried to remove the clippings with their
hand. Many homeowners had fingers amputated by the rotating blade; others were
more fortunate and only sustained severe lacerations.
THE CPSC STANDARD
If you purchase a new
walk-behind rotary lawnmower, the machine must meet the June 30, 1982 federal
standard, and must be certified as complying with the regulation. Some of the
safety features of the regulation include:
- The blade brake control. On all new mowers, an automatic brake stops the
blade in three seconds when the operator releases his/her grip on the
handle-mounted control bar. This feature prevents the rotary blade from
operating unless the operator actuates the control. It also requires the
operator to maintain continuous contact with the control to keep the blade
operating, and stops the blade completely within three seconds when the
operator releases the control. If the mower only has a manual start, the
control must stop the blade without shutting down the engine, unless the
manual starting control is located within 24 inches from the top of the
handle, or the mower has a 360 degree foot shield. For user protection, the
mower must also have a secondary control which must be activated before the
mower can be operated.
- Foot shield. The area at the rear of the mower that might be reached by
the foot when using the mower is subjected to a probing test using a foot-like
probe. With the mower wheels on the ground, this area is probed to assure that
neither the foot probe nor any part of the mower (such as a trailing shield)
will enter the path of the blade. Shields at this rear area are also subjected
to a strength test and an obstruction test. Shields at the rear of the mower
which must be moved to attach the grass catcher or other equipment are also
examined. These shields must either close automatically or prevent operation
of the mower (when open) unless the grass catcher is present.
- Labels. New mowers must have a warning label near the discharge chute
cautioning users to keep hands and feet away from the chute. The mower must
also have a certification label with the inscription, "Meets CPSC blade safety
MEETS CPSC BLADE SAFETY REQUIREMENTS
SELECTING A MOWER
If you are shopping for a walk-behind rotary
lawnmower, consider the following factors which may affect mowing
- Who will be using the machine most of the time? Will they tire quickly if
they have to push the mower all the while or would a better choice be a
- Does the mower have deflectors at the discharge chute that force objects
thrown from it to be ejected toward the ground rather than upward in the
- Does the mower start easily? Ignition systems have been improved to
simplify manual starting of the mower.
- Is it easy to operate? Are controls within easy reach? Is the handle
adjustable so others can use the mower without difficulty?
- Do you want to vary the cutting height of the grass during the growing
season? Manufacturers use several methods to adjust the cutting height,
including wheel levers and bolted wheels. Consider the ease with which you can
adjust the cutting height when shopping for a mower.
- Consider your preferences for lawn care. If you don't bag grass clippings
as you cut the lawn, then you will likely find the "engine kill" mower quite
acceptable. With this machine, the engine will shut down and the rotary blade
will stop within three seconds after you release your grip on the operator
controls. With this "engine kill" mower, the pull-rope starter must be located
within 24 inches of the top handle, or the protective foot shield must
surround the entire mower housing.
- If you use a grass catcher to bag lawn clippings, then the mower which
features the blade brake clutch should be considered. With this mower, the
rotary blade stops within three seconds after you release the operator control
bar, but the engine continues to operate. This allows you to empty the grass
catcher frequently (the blade being stopped) without having to turn off the
engine. When the catcher is returned in place, you simply engage the operator
control to resume cutting grass. On these mowers, the starter cord may be
found on top of the engine housing.
- Can you do some mower maintenance yourself or is the machine so complex
that it must be returned to the mower shop for routine maintenance and
USING THE WALK-BEHIND ROTARY MOWER
offers these suggestions for the safe use of rotary lawnmowers:
- Fill the fuel tank before starting the engine to cut the lawn. Never
refuel the mower when it is running or while the engine is hot.
- Check the lawn for debris (twigs, rocks and other objects) before mowing
the lawn. Objects have been struck by the mower blade and thrown out from
under the mower, resulting in severe injuries and deaths.
- Don't cut the grass when it's wet. Wet clippings will probably clog the
discharge chute, ultimately could jam the rotary blade and shut down the
engine. When you need to remove clippings from the chute, the rotary blade
must be stopped.
- Wear sturdy shoes with sure-grip soles when using the mower, never
sneakers, sandals or with bare feet. Slacks rather than shorts offer better
protection for the legs. Never allow young children to operate a power
- Children should not be allowed on or near the lawn when the rotary mower
is in use. Push the mower forward, never pull it backward.
- If the lawn slopes, mow across the slope with the walk-behind rotary
mower, never up and down. With a riding mower, drive up and down the slope,
not across it.
- Don't remove any safety devices on the mower. Remember that the safety
features were installed to help protect you against injury. Check safety
features often and repair or replace if needed.
- With an electric mower, organize your work so you first cut the area
nearest the electrical outlet, then gradually move away. This will minimize
chances of your running over the power cord and being electrocuted.
- Read the owner's manual to become familiar with the workings of the
machine. Keep the manual in a safe place so it will be handy when you need it
the next time.
- Check the manual for hints on performing routine maintenance, checking
engine oil levels and fluid in powered wheel drives, and performing
maintenance when the mower is stored during the
OLDER WALK-BEHIND ROTARY MOWERS
If you cut grass with a
pre-standard rotary mower, use extreme caution. Remember that the machine does
not have the safety features of the new equipment, and that the problems that
prompted the federal standard in the first place will still be found on your
machine. For example,
- If clippings jam the discharge chute, first shut off the engine. The blade
must come to a complete stop before you attempt to clear the jam. If you try
to clear the chute while the blade rotates, your fingers could be
- Push the mower forward, never pull it backward.
- If you want to adjust the cutting height on any machine, do so before
starting the engine. The blade should always be stationary.
- Shut down the engine if you leave the operator position for any reason. If
you wish to disable the mower so no one can use it, simply remove the ignition
wire from the spark plug or remove the spark plug.