Safe Gardening
Gardening Wellbeing
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Safe Gardening

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.”

Gardening for Stress Relief

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Gardening Wellbeing
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Gardening for Stress Relief

In its purest form, gardening is about connecting with the earth and resetting our clocks to the simple, natural rhythms of life. Try as we may, we can’t really speed up a tomato plant and make it grow by our time table. We must adapt and in doing so, gardening offers us a gentle reminder about what’s really important in life: food, water, warmth, a bit of loving attention, and some room to grow.

Gardening is one of the fastest growing pastimes in the U.S., as well as one of the healthiest. Beyond its spiritual aspects, gardening can be a great stress reliever. Digging, raking, planting, pruning, and harvesting are physical activities that provide a constructive outlet for tensions that build up in our bodies. Gardening activities draw on your endurance, give you flexibility and strength, build muscle and strengthen the heart and lungs, as well as helping with weight control.

And with numerous studies showing us that regular physical activity reduces your risk of premature death, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, adult-onset diabetes, osteoporosis, stroke, depression and colon cancer, it’s clear that we all must take responsibility for ourselves and do what we can to stay healthy. So if you think you might enjoy gardening, here are some ideas to get you started:

Start small and plant things that you will enjoy. If flowers make you happy, plant a few flowers. Over time you will find what works and what doesn’t. Don’t worry too much about the best way to do things. The most important thing is to just get started.

If you are hoping to reduce stress through gardening, it’s important to make sure that working in the garden doesn’t simply create additional stresses. That means, take it easy. Keep your gardening to-do list short. Stretch before and after working in the garden to minimize aches and pains. Take breaks to sit back, rest and appreciate what you’ve accomplished. Listen to music while you work.

If a large garden sounds like too much work or you don’t have the room, think about trying Micro-gardening. Grow your own plants – food or flowers in containers rather than in a plot of ground. The size of the garden is completely up to you. There’s micro-gardening, and then there’s MICRO-gardening.

If you have access to outside areas such as a patio, balcony or porch, your micro-gardening opportunities increase greatly. You may not even need to buy special pots. If you have old flowerpots, buckets, half-barrels or even concrete blocks, you have the makings of great gardening. Make sure the containers are clean and have drainage holes. If the containers do not have built in holes than you can create a similar effect by popping some pebbles into the bottom to ensure water does not rot the root base.

Herbs grow particularly well indoors. Depending on your cooking style, one plant each can produce all the parsley, dill, thyme, basil and oregano you need for an entire season of meals. Follow the seed packet directions, or buy individual seedlings, and you’re on your way.

Remember that when container-gardening, the plants count on you for their moisture. They might not receive enough rain and dew to grow well, so water the plants when the dirt starts to dry out.

Growing your own makes it easier to get the minimum “five-a-day” servings of veggies and fruits the experts now recommend for health. Recent research confirms that most common fruits and vegetables come packed not only with the vitamins and minerals already known to support good health, but also with “phytonutrients” demonstrated to boost the immune system, retard the aging process, and help heal or prevent many chronic diseases.

Gardening is good exercise, especially if you take a pass on all the latest power tools and put your muscle to the tasks of digging, turning and spreading compost, collecting and spreading mulch, hoeing and picking rocks. Activities like these burn calories, build muscle and strengthen the heart and lungs.

Even a small vegetable garden can save money. To ensure savings, though, a backyard gardener needs to stick to the basic tools and supplies and keep a tight rein on the temptation to own all the newest gadgets. For the biggest savings in energy, dollars and space, look into intensive gardening, the art of producing a lot of food in a small space.

You just can’t beat gardening for stress relief. The simple acts of planting seeds and tending plants can restore balance and perspective during the most wrenching life crises. Research has demonstrated that people heal faster after surgery when exposed to natural scenery – even looking at photographs of green plants speeds recovery. So what are you waiting for? Get started today!