Spring Injuries That Can Lead You To My Emergency Room
After this past winter, I am as excited about warmer weather as the next person. As an emergency physician, however, I know this also means an increase in the number of visits to the emergency room due to efforts to get the lawn and garden in spring condition. As a doctor who would love to spend the nice weekends of spring planted in a chair with nothing to do but review new medical research and updates, let's review some of the key points to a healthy and safe spring.
Nothing sends people to the ER more than the lawn mower. This wonderful machine can turn your lawn into a finely manicured oasis, but it also has the potential to cause traumatic disasters.
- Get your lawn mower tuned up. You want it to be in fine working order to lower the risk of injury. A lawn mower sitting around doing nothing for 4-6 months needs a little maintenance to get back into working order.
- Never reach under the mower deck. This may seem obvious to the casual observer, but we get folks in the ER every year with hands and feet that have been severely injured after coming into contact with a spinning mower blade. Many times this happens when someone tries to dislodge thick damp grass that has clogged the mower. If the mower gets clogged, completely turn off the mower before making any effort to remove the grass. Also, disconnect the spark plug.
- NEVER let kids play near a lawn mower. It may seem fun to have the kids or grandkids ride along while you mow, but this can be incredibly dangerous. A small bump can throw them from the mower, leading to significant injury and/or death.
- Be careful with wet grass. Whether it is the risk of you slipping and falling or the mower itself sliding on a hill, wet grass leads to many injuries and several deaths a year. In fact, my dad is the poster child for this injury when he broke his ankle while mowing up a hill on wet grass. After surgery and two months of rehabilitation, he is much more careful.
- Be cautious around objects that can become projectiles. Just like the funny insurance commercial — rocks, branches, and even dirt can be ejected at impressive speeds causing injuries to the eye and skin.
- Wear eye protection. Mowing presents numerous risks to the eyes, not only from projectiles, but also tree branches that can quickly lead to eye injury and vision loss.
Falls are a common cause of injury. Many times, this happens to a person that does not frequently work at heights. This is seen in the spring with people that are trimming trees, cleaning gutters, and painting the house.
- Ensure that your ladder is secured on a firm surface and against a solid wall. Many falls are the result of the ladder shifting or sinking from its original position. This is especially true when working around mulch or moist soil. Ideally, have another person secure the ladder at the base while you are working. This person needs to stay focused because I have seen or cared for several patients that were the fall victims when the person that was supposed to be helping was distracted in the phone, texting, or social media. This is no time for a selfie.
- Stay in line with the ladder. Many falls are the result of people trying to reach too far out from the midline of the ladder which can lead to shifting or slipping. You want to make sure you keep your body vertical and in line with the ladder.
- Make sure the ladder and your shoes are dry. Falls are frequently the result of wet shoes or surfaces that lead to slipping. If surfaces are wet, dry them off. If the ground around the ladder is wet, have a towel or something to dry your shoes before climbing or wait until the ground is dry!
- Clear or avoid potential hazards. Before you climb the ladder, look around and see what you are likely to hit if you fall. Common high risk obstacles are railings, rocks, bushes, and sidewalks. If you happen to fall, the safest surface to hit is mulch or a lawn. You can’t avoid everything, but don't want to put yourself at increased risk by having something nearby that you can avoid.
Many people, mostly men, love the idea of spring with being able to buy new tools or put that garage full of gadgets into action. Unfortunately, a wide range of tools also mean a wide array of potential injuries.
- Just like the mower, make sure your tools are in good working order. With electric tools, make sure the cord is intact and has no frays, exposed wires, or breaks.
- Know how the tool functions, especially safety features. One common source of injuries is inexperience with the project that is underway.
- Never remove or bypass safety features. These features are there for a reason. Injuries I have seen have included removing the safety on a chain saw, disengaging the seat safety switch on a riding lawn mower, or tying down the cut off handle on a push mower. Safety features may mean a little extra effort, but they are also there to keep you and those around you safe.
- Don't ever let children use power equipment or sharp tools.
Long hard winters often mean plenty of brush and branches to clear in the spring. Oftentimes, people choose to burn this waste. You want to make sure you take the steps to prevent a little outdoor spring cleaning from turning into a wild house fire.
- Keep any burning clear of other flammable objects. This can include trees, brush, homes, porches or anything that may be flammable.
- Do not burn if the area is overly dry or if burning is restricted. We often see serious burns and other property damage when fires spread due to dry conditions. Also, avoid windy days. Sparks and cinder can travel quite a distance in windy conditions, putting everything around you at risk.
- Don't burn poison ivy/oak/sumac. If you think getting the rash is bad, inhaling the plant oils into your throat and lungs is far more dangerous. If there is the potential that there may be some of these weeds in your burn pile, don’t burn them for goodness sake.
- Have a plan to put the fire out just in case it is needed. It’s important to have a hose or fire extinguisher nearby. It's also smart to have a phone nearby in case you need to call for help.
- Never use an accelerant, “sweetening” a fire with a little gasoline because it can be disastrous. The combination of large surface air with plenty of available oxygen can lead to an explosive situation.
The key to spring is being prepared and safe. We can't prevent every accident, but many trips to the ER are preventable. If you have concerns, hire a professional to do the job. If you are going to do the job yourself, take the time and effort to maximize safety and prevent turning a nice spring day into a long emergency department visit.
About the Author:
Dr. Ryan Stanton is an emergency physician at Baptist Health Lexington in Lexington, Kentucky. He is the recipient of ACEP’s 2012 National Spokesperson of the Year Award, 2014 911 Network Member of the Year Award and was named 2012 Lexington Young Professionals “Rising Star” Award.