Every year, while mowing the grass, cutting a branch, or power washing a deck, at least 100 people die and an estimated 143,000 are injured badly enough to require a trip to the emergency room.
Consumer Reports is here to help you avoid either of those fates.
The injuries people suffer run the gamut from overexertion and dehydration to cuts and amputations from using all kinds of power equipment. It's also worth noting that in our research, we also came across a disturbing number of injuries associated with a common piece of equipment that doesn't have a motor at all: ladders. Falls from ladders cause more injuries than all the power equipment in our research combined, resulting in broken backs, ankles, legs, and hips. (Check out these three simple steps to stay safe on a ladder.)
But using power equipment can cause far worse accidents. When working in the yard turns deadly, it can be due to carbon monoxide poisoning from a gas-powered engine running in an enclosed space, for example, or people getting trapped under large equipment, like a riding lawn mower.
And it’s not just the person doing the yard work who’s at risk. Bystanders also get hurt, such as children who have been killed or injured when playing near a mower or other outdoor power gear.
To help you avoid getting hurt—or worse—CR analyzed data on injuries related to outdoor gear and power equipment from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which is maintained by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
We looked at records representing 428,474 injuries that resulted in visits to the emergency room from 2015 to 2017, as well as 383 reported fatalities from 2015 to 2018. Our analysis focused on injuries related to outdoor power equipment typically used around the home.
None of this gets you off the hook for working in the yard. “There are some simple precautions you can take to avoid hurting yourself or others,” says Don Huber, director of product safety at Consumer Reports. Below are details on the kinds of injuries people suffer using five common pieces of power equipment—lawn mower, string trimmer/power clipper, pressure washer, chain saw, and generator—and CR's expert advice for how to stay safe.
Lawn Mowers - Annual ER visits: 87,600 Deaths: 77
A lot of things can go wrong when you’re using a mower, considering its motor can spin a sharp blade faster than 200 miles per hour. That blade can fling a projectile like a rock or dog toy as far as 100 feet. But a mower’s blade can cause injuries without the machine even being on: About 20 percent of people who get hurt cut themselves, mostly on their fingers or hands while changing or sharpening the mower blade or removing something stuck in it.
When a walk-behind or riding mower is in use, the injuries can be considerably more gruesome. Those sharp, spinning blades can amputate a finger, toe, or even a foot when someone slips under the mower, as happened to 3 percent of the more than 85,000 people injured by mowers. Some of those were small children. “When you’re working in your yard, you should always be aware of your surroundings, especially if any children or bystanders are nearby,” says Huber. "This is especially important when using loud equipment like a lawn mower because you can't hear someone approaching."
The most dangerous scenario? Using a riding mower over uneven terrain. Most fatalities occurred when a riding mower flipped, say, over an embankment, pinning the operator underneath. A less common, but just as deadly cause is carbon monoxide poisoning. That's what happened to a 40-year-old Ohio man who died when working on a running mower in a detached garage. A mower running for an hour can produce as much exhaust as a dozen cars. Carbon monoxide can accumulate when a machine with a fuel-burning engine is running in an enclosed space. Five other victims died when working on their mowers in a garage or shed.
How to Stay Safe Using a Mower
Before you turn on your mower, whether it's a walk-behind or riding model, check your lawn for anything that could become a projectile. That includes rocks, stray toys or sports gear, or fallen branches. And even if it’s hot outside, skip the shorts and flip flops for sturdy closed-toe shoes with good traction and long pants to protect your legs. Keep young children and pets out of the yard while you’re mowing, and never let a child sit on your lap on a riding mower or tractor. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends that children be at least 12 years old before operating a walk-behind mower, and 16 years old before using a riding mower.
When you’re mowing, always remember to:
When you need to neaten up the edges of your lawn, a string trimmer is the best tool for the job. But with its super-fast rotation, the string in a string trimmer can easily cut through your skin or send debris flying, hitting you or someone nearby. No wonder, then, that these and other power clippers cause their fair share of yard work injuries. Though string trimmers and clippers typically cause lacerations, power clippers have been the cause of finger amputations.
You could also suffer from overexertion while using string trimmers and power cutters—from our research, some victims reported shortness of breath or heart problems. A few ER visits were from people who fell while using a trimmer or clipper on a ladder or in a tree.
How to Stay Safe Using a String Trimmer or Power ClipperAlthough string trimmers have a shield to deflect debris that might kick up, you’ll still want to wear gloves, protective eyewear, boots, and long pants. All gas models and some electric models can be so loud that you’ll need hearing protection, too. Follow the same precautions for using other kinds of power clippers.
With trimmers especially, always check the areas you plan to trim for any loose items, such as toys, balls, or fallen branches that can be kicked up by the trimmer and hurt you or others. And make sure children, pets, and other bystanders are at least 50 feet away from where you’re working. If someone wanders by, turn off the trimmer.
Other tips to keep you from getting cut, or worse:
For more information on string trimmers, check our string trimmer ratings and buying guide.
Pressure Washers - Annual ER visits: 7,500 Deaths: 2 fatalities reported in 2016 and 2017
A pressure washer may not have a blade, but that's no comfort: This is a machine that concentrates water into a stream with 30 to 80 times the force of water from a garden hose, allowing it to slice through any number of materials. You can easily etch a deep groove in a wood deck with that kind of pressure, and your fleshy limbs and digits don’t stand a chance. Lacerations to the hands and fingers are the most common injury, followed by strains and bruises.
A number of people also get injured when they fall from a ladder when using a pressure washer to clean the roof or gutters. According to the CPSC data, the two people who died were using pressure washers indoors and succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning from the running engine.
How to Stay Safe Using a Pressure WasherAside from never using a gas-powered pressure washer indoors, our most important safety tip is to avoid zero-degree nozzles. “No matter how well a model cleans, Consumer Reports does not recommend any pressure washer with a zero-degree setting or nozzle, which condenses the full force of the water into a pinpoint,” says William Wallace, manager of home and safety policy for CR. (Pressure washers with replaceable nozzles have color-coded nozzles—the red nozzle is the zero-degree one. All-in-one nozzles are not color coded.) These pinpoint sprays can cut like a knife. Instead, opt for nozzles with settings of 15, 25, or 40 degrees. For more information, see our pressure washer safety alert.
Other precautions to take:
Chain Saws - Annual ER visits: 27,800 Deaths: 5 fatalities in 2016 and 2017
There’s a reason chain saws are featured in horror movies—they can inflict horrific damage. You can easily cut yourself with the sharp motorized blades while cutting errant tree branches. In fact, more than 40 percent of serious injuries from chain saws are lacerations, mostly to the arms and legs. Finger amputations account for 6 percent of hospital admissions.
Fortunately, reported deaths from chain saws are low. In one instance, a 55-year-old Tampa man suffered a fatal cut to the neck while using a chain saw to clean up fallen trees after Hurricane Irma in 2017. The other fatalities in the CPSC data included branches falling on the victims as they worked.
How to Stay Safe Using a Chain SawProtective gear is key when it comes to using chain saws safely. To avoid getting cut, wear snug-fitting clothing and sturdy work boots, preferably steel-toed. Shield your legs with cut-resistant chaps, your hands with protective gloves, and your head with a helmet with a face shield. All this gear will cost you about $200 but can keep you from far costlier medical bills. While you’re at it, consider using ear protection, because saws typically exceed 85 decibels at ear level, which can cause hearing damage.
When you’re ready to go to work, follow these steps:
When the job’s done, turn off the saw and use a bar sheath or carrying case to protect yourself when you’re putting the saw away. Be sure that the engine has stopped and the muffler is cool. For storage in a car or truck, stow the saw in the trunk or cargo area.
For more information on chain saws, check our chain saw ratings and buying guide.
Generators - Annual ER visits: 4,500 Deaths: 68
A portable generator produces power if your electricity goes out in a storm, but it also produces deadly carbon monoxide (CO)—the top cause of generator-related deaths. Take the case of three Wisconsin friends, ages 23 to 30, who died in a home from carbon monoxide poisoning in 2017 after using a generator indoors to power their electricity.
“Gas generators release levels of CO that are exponentially higher than an idling car, and they should never be operated in an enclosed space,” says CR's Wallace. High concentrations of CO can kill in a matter of minutes or leave victims with lasting injuries, such as brain damage.
You could end up in the ER for reasons other than CO poisoning, too: You could suffer electric shock from plugging an extension cord into the machine if water has collected inside or receive burns from getting splashed by gas while trying to refuel a generator before it has completely cooled.
How to Stay Safe Using a GeneratorSimple precautions to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:
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