Gardening often conjures up idyllic pastoral imagery. Dappled light on beautiful flowers with a tidy, relaxed gardener with an overflowing harvest basket in shot makes gardening seem like the most wonderful hobby to enjoy. While there are many times when this is the case, on the way to becoming an idealised utopia, the garden environment can often be a robust, demanding workplace as well.
Gardens can be dangerous places, but once you are aware of the risks and have plans in place to avoid hazards, gardening will give you great joy without causing harm or injury. Dangers in the garden can come from a variety of places and for a range of reasons. It is a good idea to do a regular review of the garden to determine where the risks are. Have the risks changed over the season? And what do you need to do to minimise the chances of running into problems?
Heading into your garden
• Wear closed-in shoes with a good anti-slip tread or even better, with steel-capped toes. This is especially important when working with digging, chopping, or mowing tools.
• Avoid wearing items that could get caught on things, such as long necklaces or jewellery, loose hair, excessively loose or flowy pants or shirts.
• To protect from the harsh sun, a large sun hat, and a light long-sleeved shirt will keep you cool and comfortable. Don’t forget to apply plenty of sunscreen, reapplied often, as garden work can be sweaty work!
• Gloves are an obvious choice when working with soil, potting mix, sharp materials, and thorny plants. They are handy even when using secateurs for an extended period of time to avoid blisters, especially if your secateurs do not have adequate comfort features.
• Keep your tetanus booster up-to-date as many injuries in the garden can be caused by dirty or rusty items.
• Keep paths and steps clear of clutter. In the wet seasons, make sure any leaves, slime or mould is removed to prevent slipping or tripping.
Gardening is physical work!
• Gardening can be quite a workout, so it is a good idea to do a few stretches and warm up exercises first, especially if you haven’t gardened in a while.
• Remember to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fresh water from an on-hand source.
• Take breaks often and avoid doing repetitive tasks for an extended period to avoid strains and injuries.
• When lifting heavy objects, bend with your knees to prevent harm to your back or get some help.
• If you are working overhead or where particles can get in your eyes, reach for safety goggles.
• If you are working with anything that generates a large amount of noise – traditional mowers, chippers, outdoor power tools, protect your hearing with effective ear protection.
• Be realistic. If a project is large, complicated or beyond your abilities, consider getting in the experts.
Take care with tools
• Use ergonomically designed tools with practical features for comfort that will reduce fatigue. Mix up your tasks with a little and often approach.
• For the best results it is best to use sharp tools - but take extra care to avoid cutting yourself.
• If you need to work in high places consider using an extending or telescopic tool so you can stay safely on the ground. If you need to use a ladder, make sure it is on even ground, stable and get someone to steady it while using.
• Tools and hoses left lying around can be a tripping hazard so make the effort to put tools away and store appropriately once you have finished with them. This is also best practice for the longevity of your tools.
• Store your hose on a hose trolley or hose bracket for best long term performance and compact storage.
• Putting a ping pong ball over the ends of poles and bamboo stakes prevents injuries to eyes.
• Power tools have the greatest risk of causing severe injuries. Always use the appropriate safety equipment, be sure your tools are in good working order and read the instructions before use.
• Plan and carry out your work with power tools with the upmost care. Focus on the task at hand, avoid distractions and ensure others know not to interrupt your work if possible – for your safety and theirs!
Planting, plants and weeds
• Legionnaires Disease is a high risk when using compost or potting mix in a confined space. To avoid inhaling particles, work in a well-ventilated area, wear a mask and gloves. Make sure the potting mix is damp to reduce the dust, and wash your hands when finished.
• When using chemical products of any kind, always follow the directions on all labels, particularly when it calls for a mask, gloves, goggles, and handwashing. Even when making homemade solutions, make sure you understand the safety of all of the ingredients and their impact on all living things in the garden. Just because it is in your pantry doesn’t mean it is completely safe to use in the garden - especially if you are using it to try and kill something like a weed, pest, or disease.
• Make sure you can recognise the weeds in your garden and especially the ones that are toxic. Remove them as soon as they appear, especially in the edible garden so they aren’t accidently eaten.
• Remove or put barriers around plants you don’t want your pets to eat, or avoid planting them in the first place.
• Never eat anything if you aren’t 100% sure of its identity.
• When preparing and preserving food from the garden, follow safe best practice to avoid food poisoning.
Good sense gardening
• Before digging, make sure you know where your underground services are. Digging up a pipe is annoying and possibly expensive, but digging up an electrical cable is dangerous. If you are working near electrical components consider switching the power off until the job is done.
• Do regular maintenance to keep structures strong and sturdy. Check at ground level as this can be a weak point for rust and rot.
• Adverse weather conditions can bring plenty of hazards with them. Check the weather forecast often. If stormy or windy weather is predicted make sure anything that could become a projectile is stored away or secured so it can’t move. To stay safe, wait until the adverse weather has passed before trying to make repairs.
• Consider taking a basic first aid course and have a plan to get help should something go wrong. This is especially important if working a distance away from others.
• When inviting others into your garden, let them know the hazards they could encounter to keep them safe.
Taking the time to assess the hazards, plan and prepare thoroughly, make sure tasks are done well without cutting corners, and having action plans in place should the unfortunate occur will give you (and others) peace of mind, and make working in the garden the safe, enjoyable and rewarding hobby it can be. Stay safe in your garden this season.