Bad backs and accidents can spoil the pleasure of gardening. Taking an ergonomic approach to gardening can help ensure that it is a safe and enjoyable hobby. It is important to make your own ‘risk assessment’ – sizing up the dangers and taking steps to avoid them.
According to 2004 data from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), about 300,000 people are hurt in their gardens each year seriously enough to go to hospital. 110,000 of these are children. Around 87,000 are injured actively gardening or carrying out DIY jobs in the garden.
The most common accident in a garden is a fall (115,000), but the biggest threat to people actually gardening is a cut (19,000), then falls (18,000) and being struck by things (12,600).
The UK’s Ergonomics Society says that gardening activities contain many of the risk factors associated with Cumulative Trauma Disorders, or “CTDs”. CTDs are a variety of disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis that can develop as a result of repeated “micro-traumas” to the soft tissues of the body. Certain movements can cause tendon irritation, obstruction of blood flow through arteries, or compression of nerves. The repeated and combined effect could cause or aggravate a larger problem.
Knowing how to avoid these problems is important, particularly for older gardeners or long term gardeners who may be at greater risk. The kind of things they need to be aware of are not so different from the precautions manual handling workers need to take, including how to bend when working at ground level and not bending unless absolutely necessary, for example by re-potting at table height.
Another alternative is to use long-handled gardening tools such as hoes, spades and rakes. Yet Another is to work below shoulder level whenever possible or if working about shoulder level to perform the task for five minutes or less.
Gardening can be extremely beneficial in terms of the exercise and pleasure that it brings. Ergonomist and gardener,Colette Nicolle says, “There is nothing like digging up those weeds to relieve stress and later admiring the outcome of all your efforts”.
The Ergonomics Society which is the professional organisation for ergonomists/human factor specialists has five tips for gardeners:
- Gardening is a source of pleasure and exercise but don’t overdo a session. Have plenty of breaks, particularly if you are digging, bending, stretching, carrying, etc
- Be aware of the dangers from garden equipment. Don’t leave tools or hose pipes in places where they are likely to cause an accident
- Try to do some research before buying garden tools and equipment and think hard as to exactly what you want the item for and how often you will use it because these factors should influence your purchase
- If possible, have a feel of tools before you buy because handle size, weight, length of spindle etc are all key when it comes to using a tool
- Think about who uses the garden when designing features such as a steps, paths or ponds. Will it include elderly people or young children, as a steep drop from one level to another can be an accident waiting to happen.
Flowerpots can be lethal
RoSPA’s Top Ten list of most dangerous garden tools is:
1. Lawnmowers, (6,500 accidents in the UK each year)
2. Flowerpots (5,300)
3. Secateurs and pruners (4,400)
4. Spades (3,600)
5. Electric hedgetrimmers (3,100)
6. Plant tubs and troughs (2,800)
7. Shears (2,100)
8. Garden forks (2,000)
9. Hoses and sprinklers (1,900)
10. Garden canes and sticks (1,800)
Many mower accidents occur when people cut themselves cleaning the blades, while lots of people trip over flowerpots or are injured moving them.
Men have more accidents in the garden than women and, apart from children, people aged 30 to 60 are most likely to come a cropper.
Sarah Colles, RoSPA Home Safety Adviser, said: “Gardens are places where people want to relax and perhaps that’s why so many accidents happen there.
“Simple measures such as putting on gloves could prevent many of the cuts. Wearing strong shoes and trousers when mowing the lawn rather than shorts and sandals can help.
“Electric mowers and other power tools must always be used with an RCD – residual current device – which will cut off the power quickly in the event of an accident. Maintenance must never be carried out while the mower is plugged in. It’s best not to have children around when mowing the lawn.
“Chemicals should be stored out of sight and out of reach of children and tools should always be tidied away after use.”