How to stay safe while gardening

garden safety

Pottering about in the garden is often characterised as a safe, sedate activity. While this is often true, it always pays to be sensible and considerate of your surroundings, particularly when you’re using potentially dangerous gardening tools and equipment.

Here then are a few straightforward tips to enjoy everything that’s wonderful about gardening, while shielding yourself from the handful of risks.

Ladder safety

Ladders are one of the most common cause of garden accidents, but it generally isn’t the ladder’s fault. Despite the heavy regulations around the use of ladders in the workplace, individuals can be remarkably complacent when gardening at height. Climbing onto a wobbly stepladder with a large pair of shears should be an obvious red flag, but shockingly, it still happens.

Stepladders should only be used for access rather than maintenance, as they’re only designed for completely level ground, and are thus prone to tipping. A number of firms produce ladders similar in design to stepladders but featuring a safety platform, and features such as adjustable legs. There are also tripod or ‘Japanese’ ladders, which are often more lightweight and also more stable than traditional designs.

Whichever ladder you’re using, be sure to act within your means. Instead of leaning, move the ladder along. Don’t cut or trim above your head height, and make sure you have a good view of any objects that might be on top of a hedge or in a tree, lest they fall on you and knock you off balance. Rubber safety feet and mats are also highly advisable to provide extra stability in a range of contexts.

Sheds and asbestos

What’s so scary about a shed? Here in the UK, we don’t even have the excuse of dangerous spiders and other animals to keep us on our toes. Yet there is at least one legitimate reason to be cautious: the presence of asbestos. Despite not having been used for twenty years or more, asbestos is still a present and active concern in homes and gardens around the country.

Asbestos most commonly appears in the roofing of garden sheds and garages, but can also appear in garden walls, fences and other constructs. It’s also not uncommon to dig up asbestos that has been unscrupulously buried after construction work. Asbestos is extremely dangerous, with even exposure to small amounts bearing a risk of developing lung disease and cancer later in life. White asbestos (chrysotile) can be legally dispensed of by individuals, but should really be identified and removed by someone with asbestos awareness training.

This isn’t quite the only danger of a garden shed, though. Sheds are often left dark and disorganised in spite of the number of dangerous tools and substances they can carry. If possible, you should try and include some lighting in your shed – even if this is battery powered – and keep things organised to reduce the risk of knocking things over.

Clippers and secateurs

We’re all well versed in the dangers of tools in the kitchen, but less so in the threats posed by garden tools. While many of these implements lack the immediate threat of a kitchen knife, they are often designed to impart more force, and so have the potential to do even more damage. Knowing how to use them correctly is the key to being both safe and efficient in your garden.

Like knives, you should always make sure to motion away from your body when using a hedge trimmer or other cutting tool. Clippers and shears should only be used on the same level you are at, and never used on a ladder, as they are extremely dangerous in the instance of a fall. Protective gear such as gloves and goggles should also be worn when using power tools, and wherever there is a danger of debris striking you or a blade striking your hand.

Strain and posture

There are plenty of active risks in the garden, but there are some passive ones, too. The effect your gardening is having on your physical health may not occur to you until after the fact, but it can have serious consequences (not least stopping you from gardening!). Posture, form and using power tools for too long can all cause damage that could be long-lasting.

Vibrating tools such as strimmers can cause hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) if used for extensive periods, a condition which causes numbness and poor circulation in limbs. Repetitive actions such as digging and cutting meanwhile can cause RSI and aggravate other injuries, particularly in people with arthritic conditions.

Instead of bending over, you may want to squat; however, this could also put you off balance if you haven’t been keeping up at the gym! Instead, it’s often safest and best for your back to kneel for tasks lower to the ground. Knee pads specially made for gardeners are also a good investment, and will keep you clean and comfortable.

Pests and wildlife

Overgrown gardens are great habitats for all kinds of wildlife, and we heartily encourage leaving areas in the margins a little untamed. If you’re coming at a wild garden with the intention of clearing it up, however, there are a few things you should watch out for. Perhaps the best known (and scariest) is the tick, an increasingly common little pest.

Ticks will latch onto you when you brush up against the plant they’re on, and love long grass. While more of a nuisance than a direct threat, they are also a common vector for a number of bloodborne diseases, most notably Lyme disease. This virus is difficult to diagnose and treat, and has a number of seemingly unrelated side effects, including severe lethargy in some people.

Other wildlife you’re likely to find in the UK includes grass snakes, which are not dangerous but are easy to miss, and some varieties of spider. One of the nice things about living in the UK is the relative paucity of dangerous animals, so there isn’t too much to fret about, but it’s worth being considerate of wildlife regardless. Try to flush everything out before you mow the grass, lest some unfortunate critters get caught in your path.