Mother's campaign leads to mower warning stickers

April 14, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

It was a gruesome accident.

Christina Welsh, 3, and her brother, Donnie, 4, were riding on a relative's lawn tractor in May when both fell off. Donnie fell clear of the mower, but Christina's right arm got caught in the blades.

Doctors at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore were able to save the arm by using a pin to reattach the severed section at the elbow.

The child spent 10 days in the hospital, then underwent skin grafts and numerous other surgical procedures. Today, the little girl has almost complete use of her right arm.

But Gay Welsh, Christina's mother, was distressed to see that even after the accident, some of her neighbors continued to let their children play near lawn mowers.

And she began to notice stories in the newspaper about other children who had lost limbs or were otherwise badly hurt in mower accidents.

Last summer, Mrs. Welsh launched a campaign to get a law passed prohibiting small children from riding on lawn tractors, or even from playing near them. She got her state senator, Baltimore County Democrat Norman R. Stone Jr., to sponsor a bill to that effect, and she testified for it in Annapolis this legislative session.

But the lawn mower lobby opposed the measure; so did the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which argued that it didn't have the $100,000 that would be needed to print the warning stickers and information brochures needed to implementthe law.

That's when John Shaw, manager of the Mid-Atlantic Equipment Dealers Association, stepped in to offer Mrs. Welsh a compromise. The association would launch a warning label campaign, he said, if Mrs. Welsh withdrew her lawn mower bill.

She agreed. And the "Christina Campaign" began.

Mr. Shaw, working with lawn tractor manufacturers, came up with a dramatic warning label that Mrs. Welsh said some lawmakers in Annapolis called "the morbid sticker."

The sticker, which is being sold to lawn mower and power equipment dealers in Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and Northern Virginia, depicts a small child being run over by a lawn tractor.

"Danger," the sticker reads. "Rotating blades cut off arms and legs. Do not mow when children or others are around."

The warning sticker, or one like it, is being put on all new lawn tractors and mowers, Mr. Shaw said. But older equipment might not have warning labels, he said.

So far, Mr. Shaw said, 15 lawn equipment dealers have purchased 2,000 of the warning decals, along with 4,000 safety brochures. They are going to be put on all mowers that come in for repair, he said.

A Cockeysville company, Suburban Sales and Rental Center, purchased 500 of the stickers, Mrs. Welsh said.

She hopes the warning labels will make people think twice before allowing small children to ride lawn tractors or play near the equipment. But if accidents don't decrease this year, Mrs. Welsh vows to go back to Annapolis and push for her bill.

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