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Ohio State University Extension


Power Lawn Mowers

Small Farm and Gardening Safety and Health Series
Agriculture and Natural Resources
S. Dee Jepsen, Associate Professor and State Safety Leader, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Jeffery Suchy, Graduate Student and Lecturer, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Power lawn mowers come in a variety of sizes and offer a variety of options depending on lawn size, operator preference and cost. They range from relatively small walk-behind models, which frequently offer self-propelled functions, to riding mowers and commercial-style walk-behind units.

Their common function on small farms and yards is to evenly cut manicured lawn areas. These units have fixed blades that rotate at 2,000–4,000 revolutions per minute, generating blade-tip speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.

Power lawn mowers are not designed for use on rough or brush-covered terrain. Contact with hard objects and debris can result in dangerous projectiles striking the operator and bystanders as well as damage to the equipment. Knowing the capabilities of the mower allows for the use of the right mower for the job. A reputable dealer and operator’s manual will help determine if the mower is designed for the intended job.


Power mowers have similarities in lawn-mowing function, but they should be selected based on the size of the lawn to be mowed, operator experience and preference. Small walk-behind, riding and commercial-style walk-behind units are the most common types of power mowers used by farmers and gardeners.

Small Walk-Behind Mowers

These have single blades and offer relatively narrow cutting widths, usually up to approximately 22 inches. They are are best suited for smaller residential lots and trimming around areas not accessible by larger mowers. They are pushed from behind manually, and many models offer self-propelled functions.

Riding Mowers

These have multiple blades and offer wider cutting widths, some up to 60 inches and wider. They are best suited for larger lawns where their size and maneuverability can be accommodated.

Walk-Behind Mower

Commercial-Style Walk-Behind Mowers

These have multiple blades and offer wider cutting widths, some up to 60 inches and wider. They are best suited for larger lawns where their size and maneuverability can be accommodated; however, they also offer increased maneuverability over riding mowers. Commercial models are typically heavier built units with advanced features and are designed for continuous use. They also have the highest blade-tip speeds, which provide better cutting performance and a manicured lawn finish. However, these units require of their operator the skill and knowledge for safe operation. 

Safe Operation

When operating any type of mower, keep bystanders away from the equipment and have them maintain a clear enough distance to avoid the hazards of being struck by objects thrown from the blades. Never allow riders on the equipment.

Follow these general precautions before fueling and starting the equipment:
• Become familiar with proper operation, including starting, stopping and engaging the blades and drive.
• Inspect the unit and attachments for signs of wear and damage.
• Make sure belts, shafts and connections are properly tensioned or tightened.
• Verify that the shields and guards are in place, and that the safety features are not overridden.
• Place the equipment in neutral and disengage the blades and drive.
• Refuel the engine only when it is cool.
• Do not smoke when working around fuel sources. 
• Do not operate equipment in a closed building, as poisonous gases (carbon monoxide) can build up quickly.
Follow these general precautions when operating any power mower:
• Remove all litter and debris from the mowing area, as objects can be deadly when thrown by a mower blade.
• Operate the unit only on stable ground or footing, to avoid potential slips and falls.
• Operate self-propelled mowers and riding mowers only at safe travel speeds.
• Do not disable safety features such as auto-clutches and shut-off switches, and do not secure levers or switches in the “on” position to simulate operator presence.
• Do not leave the unit running unattended.
• Keep hands and feet away from the mowing deck, blades and moving parts.
• Allow a distance of at least 50 feet between equipment and bystanders, to avoid injury from thrown objects.
• Do not operate the equipment when fatigued or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Operate the equipment only when there is adequate visibility and light.
Follow these general precautions when operating power mowers:
• Small walk-behind mowers
◦ Mow across slopes to avoid the potential for slipping and having your feet go under the mower deck.
• Riding mowers
◦ Mow up or down slopes to avoid the potential for overturns.
◦ Turn off the mower deck before dismounting.
◦ Be aware of power take-offs, belts and pulleys, to avoid entanglement.
• Commercial-style walk-behind mowers
◦ Operate the mower at slower than normal speeds until comfortable with the steering and drive functions.

Inspection and Maintenance

Keep the equipment and all accessories in good repair. Use the maintenance schedule provided in the operator’s manual, which is the best source of information regarding equipment maintenance. Proper maintenance will increase the life of the equipment and decrease the likelihood of safety risks due to equipment malfunction. Well-maintained equipment will result in less strain on the equipment and operator, and will allow mowing tasks to be performed more efficiently. 

Always shut off the engine and disconnect the spark plug wire before performing maintenance and before unclogging the mowing deck, and remember that mower blades may continue to spin after the engine has been shut off. Follow these common maintenance and inspection guidelines: 
• Review the operator’s manual for recommended service.
• Maintain proper oil levels and lubrication of moving parts.
• Maintain cutting edges on the blades.
• Remove excess grass clippings from the mowing deck.
• Inspect and adjust all deflector guards and safety features. Replace, if necessary.
• Drain the fuel tank in a safe area and run the engine on idle until it stops, before storing the equipment for extended periods. 

Personal Protective Equipment

Always use personal protective equipment (PPE) when operating a power mower. Consider the following PPE recommendations:
• Wear safety glasses with side shields or goggles to protect the face and eyes from flying debris when using cutting attachments.
• Wear ear protection to preserve hearing and protect the ears from the high level of noise produced by the engine.
• Wear leather gloves to protect the hands from cuts, splinters, abrasions and contact with sharp edges and flying debris.
• Wear sturdy leather work boots or hard-soled shoes to protect the ankles and feet from flying debris. Steel-toed boots provide additional protection.
• Wear pants and a snug-fitting, long-sleeved shirt to protect the skin from flying debris and cuts.


• Jepsen, S.D., Michael Wonacott, Peter Ling, and Thomas Bean. Tailgate Safety Training for Landscaping and Horticultural Service: Power Lawn Mowers, AEX-192.1.39. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Extension, 2006.
• Sadaka, S. Agriculture and Natural Resources: Lawn Mower Safety. Little Rock, AR: University of Arkansas, 2014.

Reviewer: Kent McGuire, CFAES Safety and Health Coordinator, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering


Originally posted Nov 19, 2015.