Are you a safe gardener? Beware of unexpected injuries!

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At my allotment last week I walked backwards as I raked and almost fell bottom first into my plot’s metal water trough. Ten minutes later I stepped on a rake and it flew up and hit me hard in the elbow (which was a painful expletive-inducing shock). Gardening is so good for us on many levels – exercise and mindfulness keep us physically fit and mentally calm. Being with nature is instinctively relaxing and the perfect antidote to the stresses of daily life. It is however important to be aware of dangers that may lurk in a garden, allotment or potting shed with the potential to cause us serious injury.

According to the official research, gardening (home) and allotments (leisure) are responsible for around 47,000 Accident & Emergency visits each year in the UK. Annual reporting and analysis examining the causes of these A&E visits stopped being recorded by the Home & Leisure Accident Surveillance System in 2002 (HASS/LASS) but the data is still there to be read. There can be little doubt that the underlying causes are the same today because gardening and human nature are relatively unchanged fifteen years later. None of the leading injury causes are a major surprise except perhaps the ‘flowerpot’ and ‘flower trough’ – both popular trip and lifting hazards apparently (with garden falls being the top A&E inducing gardening accident).

Lawnmower Injuries

Lawnmowers cause the most garden injuries

Top 10 Garden Injury Causing Items

  1. Lawnmower (approx 7000 annual A&E visits)
  2. Flowerpot (approx 6000 annual A&E visits)
  3. Hedgetrimmers (approx 5000 annual A&E visits)
  4. Secateurs / Pruners (approx 4500 annual A&E visits)
  5. Spade (approx 4000 annual A&E visits)
  6. Flower Trough (approx 2500 annual A&E visits)
  7. Garden Fork  (approx 2200 annual A&E visits)
  8. Shears (approx 2000 annual A&E visits)
  9. Hose or Sprinkler (approx 2000 annual A&E visits)
  10. Garden Cane (approx 2000 annual A&E visits)

 

A Twitter poll I ran this week suggests that 18% of gardeners have made a trip to A&E at least once for a gardening related injury (we can probably round that down to ‘one in ten’ for a nationwide extrapolation). Reaching out to the social media communities I also very quickly found real world examples of incidents that had caused gardeners and allotment holders to take a trip to hospital, sometimes with a blue light run!

The real life injury examples below make for compelling reading, some have an air of ‘You’ve Been Framed’ about them, others might make you think more carefully before wandering into the garden to mow the lawn whilst wearing flip-flops…


Facial Injuries

  • “Last week a close friend used petrol to get a bonfire of hedge clippings going. Emergency dash to the local burns unit, facing 2 weeks in hospital and possible skin grafts. His comment to his wife was ‘I can’t believe how quickly it happened'”
  • “I chipped a front crown when cutting the grass. A stone flew up and hit me in the mouth.”

Eye Injuries:

  • “Scratched my retina on an ivy root. When the nurse put the local anaesthetic drops in my eye I nearly kissed her. Always wear glasses now. Was told by the eye doctor that Half of all accidental blindness is due to DIY and Gardening Accidents”
  • “Badly scratched my cornea when I got whipped across the face by some old brambles when clearing an old compost heap. It was agony! Several hours in A&E, antibiotic eye drops, and dry/sore eye for ages afterwards. Teach me to be overly aggressive with a compost heap!”
  • Euphorbia sap in eye despite protective glasses. Still having problems over two years later.”
  • “A piece of twig bounced back into my eye when cutting the hedge so a trip to the eye hospital. There was a scratch on the front of the eyeball so had to have drops and keep covered for a few days, I’m very careful now!”

Head/Concussion

  • I was attacked by our very large cockerel! He knocked me clean out,when I came round he was still attacking me,split my head open,puncture wounds from his spurs in my face and head and a black eye! Went to a&e for stitches,the doctors had all on not laughing and said it as the first case they had had with a cockerel! Alas said cockerel was dispatched!”
  • “Stood on garden rake broke my nose, two black eyes and a concussion.”
  • “Couldn’t be bothered to walk around the raised bed so I jumped over, landing on the potato hoe and knocked myself clean out”.

Wrist & Hand Injuries:

  • “Broken wrist. I tried to corner a wheelbarrow with an uneven load”
  • “August last year fell off path onto neighbours plot and broke my wrist”
  • “Hit my fingers with a sledge hammer whilst knocking in posts cracking the bones in a few fingers”
  • “Split my thumb nail in half length-ways with secateurs.”
  • “Practically cut the end of my finger off with brand new sharp secateurs – it was such a clean cut I didn’t realise anything had happened until I saw the blood dripping.”
  • “I was once promoted to head nurse after my husband tried to free the mower when it was still going and sliced his finger up. It was his left hand and as he’s left handed he couldn’t do much so I had to dress the wound every day which was messy. He’s a professional gardener (and part time muppet!) and did this at a customers house. They very kindly drove him to A&E.”

Foot Injuries:

  • “Slipped under a Flymo mower whilst mowing on a slope and chopped my big toe off. Stupidly I only had trainers on. Much more careful and sensible now.”
  • “I stepped on a piece of wood with a nail sticking up, partially covered by leaves wearing wellies. A&E told me I was lucky the nail was big as a smaller one might have snapped off in my foot. Tetanus jab and very painful to walk for what seemed like ages.”
  • “I stuck a garden fork in my foot doing some digging on my plot late on a Friday night in summer. I did not go to A&E until Saturday morning.”
  • “Dropped my Felcos (secateurs) on my foot and stabbed myself. I made sure my husband power washed the path before I went to A and E”
  • “Threw my fork down and went straight through my foot and pinned it to the ground.”
  • “Trod on a rake and pierced my foot.”
  • “Trod on a rusty nail whilst shifting manure, trip to hospital for tetanus booster.”
  • “Wore crocs to put out compost . Slipped on algae on wood. Went flying, put foot down and stood on nail in wood edge. Ripped hole in foot bottom two cm wide sideways. Tetanus (non stitch able) crutches two weeks very very very painful!”

Hips & Legs

  • “Dislocated my hip shifting manure, laid in it for 3 hrs while waiting for ambulance to find their way to me, spent the weekend in hospital & trip to operating theatre to have it put back in! I’m a bit more careful now.”
  • “Mistook my leg for a thistle! Scythed a gash that needed ten stitches and a blue light ambulance trip!
  • 6 weeks ago, I stumbled onto a spade and sliced my leg, had to have it taped and with regular weekly visits to see the local nurse it has finally ‘dried up’.”
  • “Only had plot since August. Dropped a pallet on my leg”
  • “Punctured a leg (with bamboo) while cutting back bamboo – that hole took ages to heal, and involved a district nurse coming to irrigate the wound for several weeks!

Animal and Insects:

  • “Disturbed a wasps nest and had 12/15 wasp stings all over me.”
  • “Allergic reaction to multiple wasp stings…”
  • “I was bitten by a mouse while releasing it from a humane trap (some gratitude)! Had to go to A&E for tetanus shots!”

Infections:

  • “Gardening… pruning barberry without gloves. Anaerobic bacteria traveled through a puncture wound to my brain”
  • Piece of dry perennial stalk, dimensions of match into my middle finger. Went seriously septic.”
  • “Ended up with tetanus infection from contaminated soil even though I was up to date with my injections. 4 days in hospital on a drip caught it in nick of time”

How to Stay Safe in the Garden or at the Allotment

Clearly accidents can happen to anybody, anywhere – I’m only focusing on gardening related injuries in this article. The ROSPA statistics show some people can’t even put their trousers on in the morning without a trip to A&E! Don’t let the examples above put you off a very enjoyable past-time that has many more benefits than risks, just ensure that you take the following precautions:

  1. Put tools away so that you don’t forget where a rake or hoe is, concussion is a nasty business. It also helps maintain the durability of tools to keep them protected from the elements.
  2. Protect your eyes with goggles when mowing the lawn, strimming or handling and cutting poisonous or thorny plants. If you do get an irritating plant sap in an eye (for example Euphorbia) be sure to take a sample of the plant to A&E with you. Send children in from the garden when mowing the lawn, rogue stones can fly up unexpectedly in all directions.  Flower pots or plastic bottles on canes are not placed for decoration or bird scaring, they are for safety to stop you poking your eye out when you bend over to pick up the spade that just fell over!
  3. Protect your hands and feet. I’m not sure I’m going to resort to steel toe capped boots but I do think that I need to stop digging with a fork whilst wearing my thin canvas trainers. Please don’t dig or mow grass in flip-flops! Strong gardening gloves are a must when using secateurs, handling manure or wielding a sledge hammer. Again when handling poisonous or thorny plants.
  4. If handling soil or compost without gloves for potting or sowing ensure that you have no open wounds or cuts. If you do then it would be wise to wear surgical gloves for protection, a plaster alone may not be enough, surgical gloves still allow for the dexterity you need with fiddly tasks.
  5. Legionella and Weil’s Disease – when opening bags of compost do so outside, not in a greenhouse or shed. Compost bags can harbour dangerous bacteria such as Legionella which can cause life threatening infections if inhaled. Stagant water in hose pipes or water butts can also harbour Legionella bacteria so be careful to clean them both regularly. Rats and other rodents can spread Weil’s Disease through their urine so take care when handling compost from opened bags or your own compost heap.
  6. Ensure that you drink lots of water when gardening or digging, especially on hot days. It is easier than you think to get sunstroke, I don’t rate hats (I get even hotter) but if that works for you then a hat could be advisable. NEVER drink water from allotment standpipes as Legionella (and other bacteria) can also proliferate in those – I take bottles of water that I fill at home. Be extra careful when mixing standing water in water butts or liquid compost.
  7. Are your tetanus jabs up to date? Current guidelines are that those who have had multiple standard tetanus boosters during their lifetime probably don’t need another booster. Talk to your GP or community nurse if you are in any doubt (the nurse often has a shorter waiting list!).
  8. Ask for help when lifting heavy bags, sleepers, moving a shed or carrying a wheelbarrow load of manure (better still make smaller wheelbarrow runs).
  9. First aid – it’s worth keeping a first aid kit in a shed or in the car. This may benefit you or other members of your allotment community when faced with an accident. Consider taking a first aid training course – your employer may even help with that.
  10. Working alone – we’ve all done it, I often frequent the plot alone, sometimes after dark when slug hunting. Ensure that somebody knows you are going and keep your mobile phone with you at all times in case you have a fall. There are injury examples above where people have fallen and had to await discovery, I wouldn’t want to spend a night at the allotment awaiting help. Some allotment sites don’t allow night time visits for this very reason.
Take care in the garden

Take care in the garden

There are certainly even more things you can do to stay safe; not starting bonfires with petrol or disturbing wasps nests for example, it’s all about being sensible and not letting complacency creep in. Having put this article together and conducted the research I’ve discovered that I definitely don’t pay enough attention to the injury risks of gardening. Furthermore my recent #AllotmentFashionWeek posts largely neglected the importance of safety-wear! I know that Monty Don likes to ‘big up’ the whole ‘no-gloves gardening thing’ but I now feel even more justified in owning numerous pairs of rigger gloves which I wear for everything gardening related except for sowing seeds and bulbs.

 


Garden Injury Statistics for the UK – Tools etc. *

Injury Causing Item Home Garden (HASS) Annual National Estimate Leisure / Allotment (LASS) Annual National Estimate Total Estimated UK Visits to A&E
Lawnmower 6540 267 6807
Flower pot 5289 656 5945
Hedgetrimmers 4777 103 4880
Secateurs or pruners 4408 21 4429
Spade 3588 349 3937
Flower trough 2788 267 3055
Garden Fork 2030 246 2276
Shears 2132 62 2194
Hose or sprinkler 1907 205 2112
Garden cane 1866 246 2112
Wheelbarrow 1579 410 1989
Strimmer 1415 62 1477
Garden table 882 185 1067
Rake 779 41 820
Watering can 718 21 739
Bird bath 451 21 472
Trowel 431 0 431
Lawn roller 226 82 308
Hose reel 267 21 288
Garden wire or twine 226 41 267
Scythe 185 21 206
Pruning saw 185 0 185
Mister/Sprayer 185 0 185
Lawn Edge Trimmer 144 0 144
Seed tray 82 41 123
Netting 82 41 123
Rotavator 82 21 103
Garden shredder 82 0 82
Hoe 62 0 62
Lawn rake 62 0 62
Sickle 21 21 42
Totals 43471 3451 46922

 


Garden Injury Statistics for the UK – Type of Injury etc. *

Mechanism Garden Greenhouse Potting Shed
Fall on same level 2926 16 29
Fall on stairs 486 2 11
Fall from ladder 303 2 5
Fall from building 202 0 10
Other fall 2381 5 21
Explosion 4  0 0
Struck – Moving object 1613 1 60
Struck – Static object 1299 7 38
Struck – other 488 0 6
Pinch/crush (blunt) 259 0 11
Cut/tear (sharp) 1340 21 109
Puncture 630 1 28
Bite/sting 820 2 12
Foreign body 620 3 39
(Suspected) poisoning 72 0 7
Chemical effect 27 0 5
Thermal effect 203 0 0
Electric 34 0 1
Acute overexertion 586 1 13


*
Data source ROSPA – HASS & LASS 2002 2002.

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About Author

Matt Peskett is GrowLikeGrandad (if you want to know why read 'About the Editor). He has a 'heavy clay' allotment and is a member of the Dorking Allotment Holders Association (DAHA). Matt also has a medium sized 'sandy soil' hillside garden (Italian terrace designed) and enjoys photography - especially nature. Matt takes inspiration from gardens like Hidcote, Great Dixter and Sissinghurst and enjoys watching anything on TV with Monty Don in it.

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