Gardening can be dangerous if you’re careless, in a rush or are tired. Make garden safety your top priority with some simple tips to stay safe.
Injuries can happen at any time, in any place. This includes your garden.
Cuts, scrapes, backaches, splinters and punctures are common among gardeners and homesteaders.
Depending on the nature of the injury, it may require just a cleaning and bandaid or rest. In the worst cases you’ll likely have to go to a walk-in clinic or emergency room at a hospital. In the very worst case you could lose your life if you can’t seek help immediately!
However there are ways to ensure that these injuries are few and not life-threatening when they do happen.
All you need to keep in mind is some common sense advice to protect yourself from the dangers outdoors.
Please note that this post is not intended to provide medical or first aid advice – if you’re injured you may need to visit the emergency room or call for an ambulance. You or someone else at home will need to make that judgement call.
Always have a phone close by especially when working by yourself, so that if needed you can call emergency services yourself. For very dangerous work make sure someone else is close by but outside of the danger area that can help you if the worst were to happen.
Gardening and homesteading work often involves heavy lifting in awkward positions. This can cause all kinds of stress on your back, legs, shoulders, neck and arms. So a few tips on how to minimize back injuries so you can continue to work in your garden instead of being in agony.
- lift with your legs
- get help lifting heavy items
- use lifting straps that use your whole body to lift heavy objects
- avoid twisting while holding onto a heavy object – this is a hard one to avoid when moving soil with a shovel, but try your best
- lift less mass; this may involve partially emptying a planter or bag of soil, only shoveling up a partial load of heavy, wet soil, not watering a planter or pot just before having to move it
- rather than having to carry something heavy, use a wheelbarrow, dolly or even just a heavy tarp to drag items around the garden
- I came across this idea for a simple way to create a sled for this purpose: Pullit DIY
- take the straightest line you can when carrying something, but be aware of obstacles that you’ll need to go around
- sometimes it is better to take the longer route if it is safer, but you might have to take a break halfway through though
If you do injure your back, rest is usually the best remedy. I find a hot pack, arnica cream and laying flat on my back the best ways to recover quickly. You can also consider massage therapy, acupressure and acupuncture for relief. Painkillers may need to be taken but keep in mind these just mask your symptoms and won’t help to heal the injury.
It is very easy to accidentally stab your feet with a pitchfork or spade, drop something heavy onto your feet or run over your feet with a lawnmower.
Therefore when doing any heavy work make sure to wear appropriate footwear. Even construction footwear with steel toes and other reinforcing is not overkill if you are doing something especially hazardous.
Wearing just sandals or being barefoot is dangerous in these situations. Too often I see people mowing their lawns in flip-flops. Not only are your feet unprotected but there is usually not much grip so you might slip and fall.
You also need to watch out for long thorns from some plants such as a fire thorn bush – these can easily pierce through shoe soles or sides.
If you do injure your foot, it’s going to be hard to stay off the foot but try as best as you can. It’s important to remove anything that got stuck in the foot and seek medical attention if the wound is bad or you think you may have broken some bones.
And remember to clean up! Leaving sharp tools lying around invites someone to step on them. For long handled tools, always stand them up out of the way. For short handled tools, have a bag or bucket you can toss them into or place them on something so that you don’t step on them (but be sure not to sit on them either!)
Cuts and scrapes
There are a lot of sharp tools used in the garden. Traditional gardening tools such as pruners, hedge shears, knives and sharp hoes, but also other tools such as screwdrivers or pliers used in maintenance or constructing new garden structures. These can injure you if they slip out of the fastener you’re tightening or loosening.
You also need to watch out for the prickly plants such as roses, some vegetable plants (eggplants can have some long nasty spikes on the stems and flower bases), firethorn, thistles and raspberry and blackberry bushes.
The best way to minimize injuries such as this is to wear thick gloves. But even then you might not be invincible and need to still be careful. Rose thorns can pierce through the thickest leather gloves. I will sometimes use my pruners to move the rose canes or a rake to scoop them up.
I find that not all work can be done wearing gloves. Tasks such as tying plants to a trellis, pulling weeds out of tight spots, seeding and anything involving very fine motor skills requires me to doff the gloves. And that’s usually when I injure myself!
In these situations you just need to be more careful and make sure you have a first aid kit nearby for the inevitable.
If you do injure yourself with something sharp the important thing is to clean the wound as well as you can and then keep it clean until it heals. Remove any foreign objects if you can.
You’ll need to seek medical care if you can’t remove the object, the wound does not stop bleeding or if after a few days of keeping the wound clean you start to see infection taking hold.
Power tool injuries
Power tools make work easier and less time-consuming, often producing more accurate work in the case of woodworking and making some impossible jobs possible.
However with power comes responsibility and power tool injuries are quite common. These can be the worst injuries, often requiring emergency room visits and unfortunately in some cases causing death. Prevention here is key, so make safety your priority when working with power tools.
- Never operate power tools when you’re tired, sick, under the influence of drugs or alcohol or if the situation you’re in just doesn’t feel right
- Read the manual and make sure you know how to properly use the tools
- Never defeat safety mechanisms or remove guards
- Know where your blade will cut before you turn on a saw and ensure you keep an eye on where the blade is cutting throughout the duration of the cut
- Keep your hands away from the path that a saw is taking or from the underside of a part that you’re drilling or screwing into
- Wear eye protection to protect from flying debris
- Wear ear protection to protect against noise – this is especially important for prolonged power tool use
- Use a dust mask or respirator if creating a lot of dust and especially if you have allergies – this is especially important when working with pressure-treated wood and sheet material such as plywood and OSB
- Wear rubber boots when power washing and keep the wand away from your feet
- Unplug any power tool before servicing it or adjusting it; make sure the power switch is off and your finger is not on the switch before plugging it in
- Don’t carry a power tool if it is turned on or with your finger on the power switch
- Keep your tools well maintained and blades sharpened so that you don’t have to force them into the work
- Keep children and pets away from the work area
- Clean up your work area to keep it tidy
- Don’t use electrically operated tools in the rain/snow
- Avoid mowing your lawn in the rain or just after a rain – not only can it damage your grass but it can be dangerous as the grass will clump up and possibly jam your lawnmower and the wet lawn will be very slippery
- Ensure anyone helping you follows the above safety tips; if they refuse to comply, refuse their help
Weather safety tips
Weather can have a huge effect on safety. Often it is during severe weather where conditions are more dangerous and injuries are more common. Here are some tips on how to deal with specific weather conditions to minimize injuries.
For hot weather
- Wear sunscreen and proper sun blocking clothing
- Wear a hat
- Stay hydrated, ideally with just water
- Take breaks and avoid working when the sun is the hottest, usually between 11am and 3pm
For cold weather
- Dress warmly but in layers
- If you’re getting too warm remove a layer before you start to sweat, but put it back on if you stop working before you cool down
- Be careful of ice so that you don’t slip and fall
- Watch out for frostbite on exposed flesh
- Limit your time outside; you may find that you’ll get tired quicker as your body tries to stay warm
For windy weather
- Avoid being outside if you have a lots of trees, especially tall ones, in your garden or a neighbour’s garden; a branch could come down and hit you
- If you have a safety hardhat or helmet, wear it
- Make sure everything is secured – having items blow around could injure someone and/or cause property damage
For rainy weather
- Mainly you need to watch your step – it is easily to slip and fall especially on wet grass or leaves; for this reason I make it a priority to first clean off walks of leaves before I tackle other areas of the yard
- You should avoid getting wet and cold – wear appropriate rain gear, gum boots and a rainproof hat
- If you do get very wet, come indoors and change into dry clothes
- As mentioned above don’t use any electrically operated power tools
Getting injured while in the garden is no fun. Not only is it hazardous but it also will keep you away from the garden and homestead until you heal. Which means in most cases critical work will have to be done by someone else in the family or you may need to hire someone to do the work.
So it is crucial that you do what you can to avoid injuries.
I have not covered all possible ways to be injured nor all possible injuries. You may have specific situations that you need to protect yourself and others from. Adapt your working habits and environment to those situations and you should be fine.
Regular maintenance walks can highlight hazards as well. Take care of those hazards when you find them or block access to that area until you have had a chance to remove the hazard.
The Government of Canada also has a page dedicated to Garden Safety, which you might also want to have a read through.
So always keep in mind garden safety for yourself and others while you’re busy outdoors.
Be safe in the garden and on the homestead!
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Tranquil Garden Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC