by Erin Marissa Russell
In gardening as with so many other things in life, like they say, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” It’s easy to see with 20/20 vision what we wish we’d have done differently. So many accidents that happen could be avoided if simple precautions were taken. By reading these safety tips, you’re taking action today to give ammunition to that part of your brain that gives you warnings in the heat of the moment.
1. Don’t repeat the same movement for too long.
It’s easy to injure yourself in the garden if you’re doing prolonged repetitive motions, or keeping at an activity that uses the same movement over and over for too long. Be aware of which of your gardening tasks include prolonged repetitive motion (like digging, hoeing, pruning, planting, or raking). Make sure to divide these tasks into 15-minute chunks and intersperse them with other activities, taking a short rest in between.
2. Get—and wear—a good pair of gardening gloves.
The first benefit that probably comes to mind when you think about wearing gardening gloves is the way they reduce blisters and calluses. But a quality pair of gardening gloves that fits you well can do so much more. Gardening gloves protect your hands from thorns and stickers, poison ivy, bites, and damage to fingernails. Even a small injury can turn into an infection when you’re working in the soil, and garden gloves protect you from this as well.
3. Protect yourself from sun damage.
Check the UV alert level in the local weather report online, in the newspaper, or on television. When the UV alert level is three or higher, take precautions like those listed here to protect yourself against sun damage. Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least 30 SPF or higher wherever your skin will be exposed to the sun. Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outdoors and reapply it at regular intervals. Limit the amount of skin exposed to the sun by donning an outfit like a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and wide-brimmed hat to garden in. Choose wraparound sunglasses with UV protection. Garden in shady spots and during times outside the hottest part of the day.
4. Avoid back pain and overuse injuries.
Some of the most common gardening injuries come from overuse or back pain. Luckily, there are simple precautions you can take against this. Avoid gardening for too long at a time, instead interspersing short work periods with breaks to relax and drink some water. Get ready to garden by walking a few laps around the garden and doing slow stretches, including gentle back stretches. Lift heavy objects by bending at the knees, never straining or using the back. Be mindful of how your body feels, and avoid anything that puts you in an uncomfortable position.
5. Keep an eye on child safety while you work in the garden.
If you have small children, you have some extra precautions to take toward safety in the garden. Don’t let your children use garden machinery or equipment, such as the lawnmower. Teach them that this equipment can be dangerous when used by children. Keep them out of the area when you are using tillers, lawn mowers, and other gardening equipment. Riding mowers can be especially tempting to children, but not only should they not be permitted to operate it, they should not be permitted to sit on the back of it. Some machinery, such as the lawn mower, can be hot enough to burn when touched after it has been used, so children should be taught never to touch it.
There is a lot you can do toward the safety of your children in the garden area. Keep your power tools unplugged and put away when projects are complete. All gardening tools and equipment should have its own place in the workshop where it is kept when it is not in use. Hazardous chemicals, such as weed killer, should be stored in a safe location, such as a high shelf behind a door that closes and locks.
Make sure an adult is always watching when children play near bodies of water such as ponds and pools. The pool can be secured with a gate that latches and locks around the outside of the pool. Ponds and other water features can be equipped with a mesh screen installed to lie just under the water’s surface that will prevent children from accidentally falling in.
6. Stay hydrated while you work.
As with any other activity, gardening can drain your body of hydration. Fight against this by working on your tasks for short periods of time, such as 15 minutes, then switching to another activity, with a short break in between. During your break, relax and rest while also drinking some water to hydrate your body. Make sure children who are spending time outdoors also get enough water to drink to prevent them getting a heat stroke or coming down with dehydration.
7. Don’t garden with your hands.
There’s an appropriate tool for just about any task you come up against in the garden, and you should use the appropriate tool for every task. Gardening with your bare hands carries the risk of puncturing your skin, which can then get infected when exposed to the microbes in the soil. But if you use your bare hands instead of the proper tools to garden, you have a higher risk of injuring yourself while you work. Always use a spade, rake, hoe, or other gardening tool when you work in the soil.
8. Be realistic about tasks, and be gentle with your body.
It’s important to be realistic about how long gardening tasks will take when you’re planning and creating a work schedule. Plan to work at a slow, comfortable pace, alternating tasks to avoid repetitive motion injuries and taking plenty of breaks to rest and hydrate. When you have a break between tasks, use the time to check in with your body. Does anything hurt? Is anything tense or stiff? Is it comfortable to move around? Don’t just fight through the pain to keep working if you notice an injury. You can always get back to gardening later, after taking a break to rest and heal an injury.
Some of these strategies may sound like common sense, and many of them are, but they’re worth repeating. After all, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, gardening is responsible for more than 400,000 injuries reported to emergency rooms each year. Don’t become one of these statistics—listen to your body when you garden, and listen to these warnings about garden safety.