Gardens can be dangerous places. Hundreds of thousands of people end up visiting A&E every year having injured themselves in the garden. We tend not to think about it, but whenever we garden we put ourselves at risk of a whole host of injuries, some simple and some major that we could avoid with a few precautions, so here are a few worth mentioning.
Wear a suitable pair of gardening gloves whenever handling tools, plants, heavy or sharp objects or garden soil. With tools this is obvious; well-fitting gloves with a good gripping surface can help you handle your tools, especially power tools, in a more controlled manner and protect your hands somewhat from sharp edges, although don’t expect them to protect you from a running strimmer, hedge cutter or other sharp power tool.
The grip that some gardening gloves give, especially those with rubber on the palms and fingers, can also help move heavy objects such as plant pots or awkward wooden objects more easily.
Gloves can also protect you from your garden plants or weeds. Thicker gloves can help you avoid thorn scratches or splinters. Longer gloves
that are designed to be liquid proof (together with other skin covering clothing, or even eye protection) can be necessary when handling very poisonous garden plants, such as those in the Aconitum genus (Monkshood), or plants with irritant or caustic sap such as Euphorbias (Spurges) or weeds such as Giant hogweed.
Wearing gloves when touching the soil isn’t just about preventing your hands getting dirty. The soil can contain bacteria and other nasties that are the cause of serious illnesses for example Tetanus bacteria, especially soil enriched with manure. Gardens where cats visit can harbour Toxoplasmosis parasites from their faeces and dog’s faeces can transfer Toxocariasis (roundworm) larvae into the soil.
Wildlife visiting your garden can also carry diseases and parasites in their faeces, so even if you and your neighbours have no pets these hazards may still be present. Also finding what the cat buried when not wearing gloves could be seriously unpleasant.
Whatever you’ve been doing in the garden, even wearing gloves, it is common sense to wash your hands and scrub under your nails
Ensure your Tetanus vaccination is up to date. Even if you’re wearing gloves in the garden bacteria can get into any cut or scrape, so it’s much better to be safe.
Use your power tools according to the safety instructions and use a power-breaker even if your electricity supply is equipped with a sensitive trip switch. I watched someone accidentally cut through a hedge trimmer wire with the hedge trimmer many years ago and the spark and crackle followed by a lack of power throughout the house persuaded me to buy a power-breaker plug to use with my garden tools.
Always ensure that you have the correct safety equipment for the tool you are using. Protecting your eyes with goggles or a face shield is a necessity when using most power tools. It can be sensible for other tasks. A stone in a lawn can be thrown up by a lawnmower at a high enough speed to break double glazed windows (my dad managed this last year) so a pair of eye goggles can help save your sight. Be warned that glasses or sunglasses (glass or plastic lensed) are usually not designed to absorb such an impact, they can shatter or splinter. There are so called ‘ballistic’ glasses and sunglasses that are more suitable for using with power tools.
If you’re using a ladder in the garden have someone help you to keep it stable or use one that will stay secure in the place you’re using it. Don’t assume that the hedge you’re trimming is going to keep your ladder upright and don’t lean over too far – get down and move the ladder. A former next-door-neighbour once ended up visiting the local hospital having injured himself falling off of a ladder whilst cutting back the tall Laurel hedge in his garden. It’s a much better idea to get professionals in to do jobs for you, where you don’t have the tools and safety equipment for working at heights, than to attempt it yourself and risk getting injured.
Put your tools away safely after use. Hang them on hooks in a shed or garage, put them away on shelves or in boxes so that you’ll find them easily and be less likely to injure yourself on any sharp edges getting them out again. Leaving tools in the garden can mean leaving sharp edges or spikes in places where you or someone else might not expect them and where they may be found by children or pets that might play with them. Don’t forget to clean them too, it’ll prolong their usable life.
Use and store any chemicals safely and according to the instructions. Don’t transfer them to another container unless, of course, it is for immediate use such as diluted fertiliser or weed-killer. Don’t let children or animals into areas that have been treated with chemicals until it is safe to do so – the packets or bottles will normally indicate this. Slug pellets can be a particular hazard to other wildlife and, despite their having off-putting tastes, children and pets can still be attracted to them so if any of these are worries alternatives such as nematodes can be a lot safer.
Gloves won’t protect your back or your muscles from injury due to wrongly lifting a weight or something too heavy, so use pot wheels, a trolley or a friend to help if necessary. Moving large quantities of gravel, sand, bricks etc. by splitting them up into smaller loads and/or using a wheelbarrow to move them will be much kinder to your back and joints.
Take care around glass greenhouses and cold frames. Glass is easily broken with metal tools such as spades, forks or hoes and high winds have been known to blow greenhouse panes out of their frames, so be especially careful around greenhouses after storms. Try to place cold frames away from the most common routes through a garden if you can so that the risk of tripping over or into them is reduced. You may also wish to cover them, where possible, when using power tools near them.
Know how deep parts of your pond are when you’re working in, or near it. The bottoms of ponds are usually very slippery and although you might not worry about ending up wet, neither slipping and hurting yourself nor damaging the liner, and causing your pond to leak, are desirable. When you’re creating ponds, using planting at the margins not only helps wildlife that need routes in and out of your pond, it can help show where the edges are and even, if tall and dense enough, prevent anyone stepping into the deeper parts accidentally.
Alcohol and gardening don’t mix. Gardens are a place to relax and enjoy yourself, but make sure that you leave the wine and beer drinking until after the gardening has stopped for the day. Tipsy people are best kept away from secateurs, shears and power tools for obvious reasons. However, do remember to keep hydrated, especially on hot days, as dehydration isn’t good for you, or your safety. Personally, wine or a gin and tonic, are sometimes used as motivation for a ‘job well done’
Keep a first aid kit handy as it’s not always possible to protect yourself against everything and cleaning up cuts and stopping bleeding should always take priority over whatever else you’re busy doing in the garden. If you do come into contact with a poisonous plant, weed-killers or other chemicals or injure yourself more seriously always seek immediate medical treatment or advice.