Safety in the Garden

Gardening is a relatively safe activity but there are some health risks, including:

  • Injuries, electric shock, an exposure to excessive noise from power tools and equipment
  • Repetitive strain injury, muscle strain, blisters, and dehydration from overexertion
  • Sunstroke, sunburn, and over the long term, skin cancer
  • Bulbs and seeds could be a choking hazard to young children and some plant varieties are toxic to children who may try to eat them

There are several safety precautions you can take to minimize these risks. These include:

 Power Tools and Equipment

  • Always read, understanding and follow the manufacturer’s instructions before using any power tool. Be sure everyone in the garden knows your equipment before using and is familiar with safe operation techniques, whether they are powered or manual tools. Do not allow children to operate power tools and keep them out of the way of operating machinery.
  • Be sure to remove rocks, sticks, toys, and tools before mowing or using other power tools.
  • Do not use electrical equipment in wet conditions and before plugging in any power equipment, ensure the power switch is off.
  • Wear appropriate safety equipment for the activity you are doing, such as leather shoes or work boots, ear plugs, gloves, and safety glasses.
  • Avoid the use of chemical and pesticides – adopt organic gardening practices.
  • To avoid unintentional injuries, always store equipment, tools, garden chemicals, seeds, and bulbs out of the right and reach of young children. Keep a close eye on children when they are in the garden.

 

image of the inside of a tool shed with tools organized on a shelf  

Overexertion 

  • Consider warming up with some light stretching before you start gardening. Work within  your strength and endurance, pace yourself, and take breaks as needed. 
  • Avoid dehydration by always keeping a water bottle with you and filling up frequently, especially on hot days. Try to work in the shade and/or wear a sun hat.
  • Work in a comfortable position for your body and keep your work in front and close to you to avoid reaching and twisting. Use knee pads or a padded stool for work at ground level. Change up your activites frequently to avoid injuries from repetition.
  • Use a wheelbarrow or garden cart to carry heavy items.

 

image of two women holding a wheelbarrow next to a garden 

 Sun protection

  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing light-coloured, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat. Mosquitoes are attracted to dark, intense colours, so wearing light colours will not only help keep you cool but will also reduce the likelihood of getting mosquito bites.

  • For sun protection, limit your time in the sun and heat between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

  • Check the UV index for the day. When the UV index is 3 or higher, wear protective clothing, sunglasses and a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30.

  • Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside to garden and reapply at least every 2 hours (or as directed) and use a generous amount. Be sure to cover all exposed areas including ears, nose, the tops of feet and backs of knees. When applying both sunscreen and insect repellent, first apply the sunscreen and allow it to absorb for 30 minutes. Then apply the repellent.

For more information on these safety guidelines, please visit the Garden Safety section on Health Canada’s website.

For more information on sun safety, please visit the Sun Safety Basics section on the Government of Canada website.

Insect protection

Mosquitoes have always been unwelcome guests at the best of times but today they carry some nasty diseases even in Canada. West Nile Virus is our biggest threat. A single bite can cause mild to serious health problems.  Mild symptoms are fever muscle and head aches, swollen lymph glands and a rash, more serious infections may lead to severe central nervous system issues (Healthy Canadians, Government of Canada). 

Cut your risk of a mosquito bite:

  • Get rid of all sources of stagnant water: empty all containers, bird baths and garden ornaments that collect water.  

  • Place fine screening about 1.2 mm. over any open water collection tanks.

  • Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. If you are gardening in the evening or early morning, try to minimize your exposure to bites by wearing clothing made of tightly woven materials or using mesh “bug jackets” or “bug hats”.  Also, tuck pants into socks and button shirt cuffs for extra protection. 

  • Consider using an insect repellent.  Note insect repellants that contain DEET are the most effective repellents available for deterring mosquitoes.

  • Report birds that die of unknown causes to Public Health 

For more information on protection from West Nile Virus and the use of insect repellent, please see the following handout from Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services.

 

image of a woman kneeling in a garden wearing gloves and a hat