Gardening is hugely popular in New Zealand, with good reason. It keeps you fit, it’s enjoyable, it gets you outdoors and enables you to grow your own fruit and vegetables. However, there are some risks involved when gardening, so it pays to be aware of what they are to help avoid injury.
As well as the risk of physical injury, soil, potting mix, compost and mulches can contain unwelcome organisms that cause Legionnaire’s disease and tetanus, which can both be fatal. You can vaccinate against tetanus, so if you're unsure if you're up to date with your tetanus vaccination, check with your healthcare provider before hitting the garden.
Here are our top tips to reduce your risk of injury or illness when gardening:
1. Wear gloves and shoes
Wearing gardening gloves protects your hands from cuts and abrasions, therefore reducing the risk of infections such as tetanus. Gloves also protect against insects and bugs that may bite or sting you. Similarly, shoes protect your feet from cuts and scrapes and reduce the risk of injury if you accidentally stand on a sharp gardening tool.
2. Wear a face mask
To reduce the risk of developing Legionnaire’s disease, wear a face mask when opening bags of, or using, potting mix or compost to avoid inhaling dust which may contain the bacteria. If you’re working indoors, make sure the area is well ventilated. It also pays to carefully read the warning label on bags of compost or potting mix. Gently dampening soil-type products with water helps reduce the amount of dust.
3. Wash your hands
Always wash your hands carefully after handling soil and before eating, drinking, smoking or placing hands near the face.
4. Be sun smart
To protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays make sure you cover yourself up. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves and use a broad-spectrum sunblock. If you can, garden in the morning or evening when it’s cooler and make use of natural shade. Sunglasses protect your eyes from the sun and from any spiky plants that may stab you in the eye. Read more about sun safety.
5. Clean cuts immediately
If you cut yourself, clean the area thoroughly with warm water. If you return to the garden, ensure the cut is completely covered up. Covering the wound prevents bugs from getting into it and causing an infection. Most cuts, scratches and grazes will heal by themselves after a few days but if you notice signs of infection such as pus, swelling and redness talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Read more about cuts and grazes.
6. Stay hydrated
Gardening is a physical activity and coupled with the heat from the sun, it’s easy to get dehydrated. Make sure you keep your fluids up. Read more about drinks and your health.
7. Look after your body
Gardening can cause aches and pains, especially if you haven’t done it for a while. Do some stretches before you begin, don’t stay in the same position for too long and take regular breaks. Use a cushion while kneeling or other types of support to minimise aches and pains. If you’re doing any heavy lifting, bend your knees to avoid injury or get someone to help you.
8. Limit hazards
Any gardening tools left lying around could become a hazard that someone may trip over or stand on. Put tools away safely when not in use. If you’re using machinery, make sure it’s in good working order and you’re wearing all the correct safety gear. If you’re using a ladder to reach high places, make sure it’s secure.