Health and Safety

The garden can be a dangerous place. Of all domestic accidents, a large proportion occur outdoors, usually through falls and the misuse of garden equipment, or doing too much work without adequate levels of fitness. Take all precautions necessary to avoid accidents.

Should I wear any special protective clothing?

Protecting eyes from flying debris and
ears from noisy machinery is essential
when using powered equipment.

Many domestic accidents occur in gardens through falls, electric shock 
or injuries from the misuse of equipment. It is important to pay attention to health and safety issues when creating and working in a garden if the risk of these is to 
be minimized.

Most modern ear defenders are lightweight and pleasant to wear. Use them whenever you are using power machinery, such as hedge trimmers, motorized lawn mowers or the cutting tools that are used for tree felling or slab cutting.

Eye injuries are common in the garden. Protect your eyes with goggles (in conjunction with ear defenders, if using powered tools) when shearing hedges, felling trees and cutting slabs and paviors. It is also worth wearing goggles if you need to move a large conifer – the needles are sharp and it is easy to jab your eye with a stiff stem in the process of handling the plant. Wear gloves to protect against thorny or poisonous plants.

Is it safe to use ladders in the garden?

Sometimes it is necessary to work at height in the garden – perhaps when picking apples and other top fruits, pruning, hedge trimming and carrying out other maintenance work to walls and fences. The use of ladders in such situations should be discouraged. They are not stable and falls are common. It is better to invest in a platform or scaffolding system that can be adjusted on uneven ground so that it stands perpendicular. This will enable you to work standing level. Most models incorporate a safety rail.

Is a hard hat necessary?

To guard against potential head injuries, it makes sense to wear a builder’s hard hat whenever you are working at height. Some special helmets combine a head covering with goggles and ear defenders.

Working at height in a garden always has
risks. Make sure that ladders are stable
and erected correctly before beginning
work and do not be tempted to over-

How do I avoid getting back problems?

Try not to bend your back when lifting, especially heavy objects. Keep your back straight and bend the knees. If you need to carry objects, aim to hold an equal weight in each hand rather than a heavy weight in one hand. It puts less strain on your back, for instance, to carry two smaller filled watering cans, one in each hand, than a single large can.

What are the implications of using electricity in the garden?

The combination of moisture and electricity is always a potentially explosive one, and gardens are inevitably damp places. Electricity is often required in the least safe place of all – to power a fountain or waterfall in a pond. Irrigation systems are also generally powered by electricity. It is essential that all wiring is installed by a qualified electrician. Outdoor sockets should be protected from the elements by waterproof housings. Where possible, use low-voltage types. This includes rechargeable equipment that is not connected to the mains when in use. Low-voltage and solar-powered lighting systems 
are available.

How should cable be laid?

It is usually recommended that electricity cables be buried at least 60cm (2ft) down, where digging is unlikely to take place. Where possible, run it alongside a fence or wall 
(where the ground is unlikely to be disturbed) or under paving. (Laying under paving has the disadvantage that the cable is inaccessible should it become necessary to dig it up or replace it.) Electricity cables should be armoured to guard against damage from spades and other sharp tools that could sever them.

Lay a marking tape 15cm (6in) above the cable. This will come to light if you need to dig over the area at any point. If you sell the property, it will also alert the new owners to the presence of the cable lower down.

How do I use an electric lawnmower safely?

Avoid mowing a lawn when it is raining or when the grass is still wet after a shower or when still dewy after a cool night. When mowing, make sure the cable runs behind you so that you do not cut towards it. It is a good idea to use a ‘Power Breaker’ which plugs into your mains socket and reduces the risk of electrocution. Before cleaning or making adjustments to your mower, always make sure it is switched off and unplugged from the mains supply.

Are there any special considerations when using a petrol mower?

Fence off areas of the garden that you
do not want to give children access to.
Ensure the fencing is secure and cannot
be negotiated by a child too young to
understand the dangers.

If you use a petrol mower you should always remove the spark plug cap. When using petrol-driven mowers or refuelling, keep well away from naked flames and do not smoke, as the fumes from petrol can ignite into a 
fire ball. Ensure that the mower is serviced regularly and store it in a 
dry place.

Should I have a tetanus jab?

Tetanus, or lockjaw, is a serious infection caused by a bacterium that lives in the soil, especially manured soil. It enters the body through a cut or open wound. A tetanus jab will prevent, but not cure, it. Regular tetanus jabs are recommended.

Are there any general tips that will minimize the risk of accidents occurring in the garden?

Keeping the garden a safe place is largely a matter of common sense. Design your garden to reduce the need for maintenance and lifting. Keep off paving if it is icy and slippery and fix uneven paving slabs to reduce the risk of tripping. Put the garden hose away after each use. Put all tools away after use, and clear away prunings. Use electrical equipment only during dry weather and always fit an RCD (residual current device) to prevent electric shocks. Keep all weedkillers and insecticides locked away from children. Wear all the recommended safety equipment when using machinery and tuck in loose items of clothing. Never leave a barbecue unattended and check it has been extinguished after use.

How can I make the garden a safe place for young children?

As in the house, the garden is full 
of potential hazards and constant vigilance of young children is essential. Fence off and make inaccessible, or fill in, any ponds 
or similar water features. Make designated play areas for children that are interesting and appealing, with soft landing areas for play equipment. Keep play areas away from glass houses. Keep the garden boundaries secure and locked, if necessary. Identify and remove any poisonous plants from the garden. Prickly plants will quickly be respected. Remove any animal faeces with a trowel. Promote an interest in gardening by planting fast growing seeds that will keep children interested and content to be in the garden environment.