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  7. Health and Safety Risks in Gardening

Health and Safety Risks in Gardening

A close up of a flower in a garden in the springtime

As spring and summer arrive and the weather warms up, gardening becomes a popular pastime for many once again. During the autumn and winter months, gardens often get neglected as the cold weather puts many off from going out to perform tasks such as clearing leaves.

Despite being quite a sedate activity for most of the time, gardening still has a great variety of health and safety risks, particularly from some of the tools and implements that are used. The danger posed by sharp objects such as shears and secateurs is obvious, and automated blades in machinery like lawnmowers and chainsaws can cause serious injury in sufficient safety precautions are not followed and the equipment used correctly. Other health and safety issues include things like the use of hazardous substances (weedkiller, lawnmower petrol etc) which could harm if coming into contact with the skin or accidentally ingested, along with manual handing dangers if heavy items need to be moved or carried, such as clearing heavy paving slabs or carrying equipment.

As well as being a recreational activity, many people perform the maintenance of natural landscapes as their occupation, or work in garden centres using or demonstrating the tools. These workers will face these particular dangers virtually every day, and often using more powerful and potentially more dangerous equipment. To give an example, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) say that workers in the forestry industry are six times more likely to be killed at work than somebody in the construction industry, which shows how dangerous certain types of outdoor occupations are. For these people, being sufficiently trained and attending health and safety courses can be the difference between life and death, either for themselves or for fellow workers nearby.

Certain high risk activities may require a permit to work (PTW) system to be implemented, in which case those involved in creating or working to the system will require permit to work training in order to understand exactly what a permit to work system is and how to ensure that it is implemented and followed correctly in order to prevent an accident from occurring.

Health and Safety Dangers from Lawnmowers

One of the first signs that summer has arrived is the sound of lawnmowers firing up in gardens across the land. The warmth of spring wakes grass from its dormant winter state into actively growing once again, which means that it soon requires lawnmowers to be dusted down and used to cut it back to an acceptable length. But these lawnmowers can pose dangers to the health and safety of those who operate them.

The blade will be the most obvious risk to health. Anything which is designed to cut something will also usually make little work in cutting through soft human flesh. The extremely high speed in which a lawnmower blade or blades rotate and their sharpness means that not only can they pose a risk when they are stationary, but when they are rotating they will cause a serious injury if a person comes into contact with them.

Whilst there are some lawnmower models which are powered solely by manual effort, the vast majority are powered either by petrol or by electricity, with both of these versions having risks to health and safety associated with their power supplies.

Petrol is extremely flammable and could lead to a fire or an explosion if it is not stored correctly or it were to come into contact with a spark or other source of ignition. The exhaust of a petrol mower is likely to get hot and cause burns if a person's skin were to come into contact with it such as their hand or their leg, as well as the inhalation of harmful fumes which are expelled into the air.

Electricity carries the risk of electrocution if the machine has faulty or damaged wiring or comes into contact with water. This is particularly likely for lawnmowers as they are often roughly moved about and are always used outside (obviously). The cable can be damaged as it moves across rough stone terrain, is pulled tight, takes the weight of the mower when it is stored in the shed and the mower is placed on top of the cable squashing it etc. As for water, there may be a sudden downpour of rain which can cause a spark either from the mower or from an extension reel.

A lawnmower's engine, motor and rotating blades can all be extremely loud and noisy. Exposure to this noise can damage the hearing of the person using the mower and possibly that of those nearby as well. Many recreational gardeners are likely to feel the risks are small enough to not bother with ear protection, but those who use lawnmowers regularly as part of their job such as groundskeepers or roadside maintenance people should use ear defenders as the cumulative effects, not to mention the likelihood of their machinery being bigger and louder, contribute to the risks to their hearing from noise damage being much greater.

Cutting grass can also cause those with hay fever to suffer symptoms and may affect their ability to operate the lawnmower safely if for example their eyes are watering so much that they cannot clearly see any objects in the path of the mower.

Chainsaw Safety

Chainsaws are used by everyone from the occasional gardener to the professional lumberjack, and although these pieces of equipment come in a variety of different sizes, the dangers for all concerned are pretty much exactly the same when it comes to health and safety. Whilst private individuals use them at their own risk, those using chainsaws as part of their work activities need to undertake comprehensive health and safety courses and regular refresher training in order to keep themselves, their colleagues and members of the public in the vicinity safe from harm.

The most obvious danger from a chainsaw has to be the chain itself. Designed to slice through tough wood, the fast-spinning chain would therefore make little work of soft human flesh, and so it is imperative that the chain never comes into contact with a person or indeed anything else it is not meant to cut such as its own power cable if it is an electric chainsaw. Even contacting a surface such as a concrete floor can cause the chain to break and fly off at high speed, potentially causing serious injury if it were to strike someone.

As anybody who has had to move a fallen branch from their property will know, tree branches are exceptionally heavy. This means that falling branches which have been chopped by the chainsaw can easily cause head or crush injuries which often prove to be fatal if they were to fall and land on somebody. Whilst professionals will be taught how to cut a branch so that it falls a certain way, it is not 100% guaranteed as factors such as wind speed, rotten wood, entanglement with other branches etc can make the tree branch fall in a direction that is different to where it was intended.

As with other tools and equipment, maintenance plays a crucial role in the correct operation of a chainsaw. Not only does the saw need to be well-lubricated at all times, but all guards and safety features need to be present and in working order. Using a chainsaw is a dangerous task at the best of times without the increased risk of an accident that comes with damaged or faulty equipment.

Many power tools are noisy and chainsaws are some of the noisiest pieces of equipment around. It will be used by a person close to their ears, which makes ear protection essential to prevent hearing damage. Exposure for even a short period of time may cause irreversible impairment. They also produce a large amount of vibration through the hands as the motor whirrs, the chain spins around and the saw cuts through the hard wood. Suitable protective gloves combined with frequent rest periods will help to alleviate the vibration and potential injury to the chainsaw operator.

Professional treefellers may just be responsible for cutting down the tree and leave the movement of the trunk and/or branches to somebody else who may even work for a different company. However some may also be tasked with moving them once they have cut them down. In this case, they will also need to be aware of the associated manual handling issues that come with moving and manipulating heavy pieces of wood, as it is easy to cause damage such as a muscle tear or slipped disc. Manual handling training would therefore be of great benefit.

Selected Courses

Please see below for a selection of health and safety courses and qualifications which you may be interested in:

NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety

The NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety is the flagship NEBOSH qualification, and is the first UK vocational qualification to be developed specifically for health and safety professionals.

The NEBOSH National Diploma provides the core health and safety knowledge (transferable across industry, commerce and the public sector) which, combined with understanding and appropriate application, underpins the competent performance of an occupational health and safety practitioner.

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NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety

The NEBOSH General Certificate is one of the most popular and widely-held health and safety qualifications in the UK. It is intended to be taken by managers, supervisors and any other employees who require an understanding of general health and safety issues.

The NEBOSH General Certificate covers the main legal requirements for health and safety in the UK, along with the identification and control of workplace hazards, and the practical application of this knowledge. The general content of the NEBOSH General Certificate syllabus means it is suitable and relevant for those working in virtually any industry, and is often used as a solid foundation for those going on to further study and specialising in a particular area such as construction site health and safety or fire safety.

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IOSH Managing Safely Course

The IOSH Managing Safely course is designed for managers and supervisors of organisations in virtually all industry sectors, in order to give them all they need to know to effectively manage health and safety in the workplace.

Recently updated, the new high impact programme covers key health and safety issues, and includes references to international case studies.

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CITB Site Management SMSTS Course

The Site Management Safety Training Scheme (SMSTS) is one of the most popular health and safety training courses, and is intended for construction site managers, project managers and senior supervisors, as well as proprietors of smaller companies.

Client-based personnel would also benefit from attending the SMSTS course.

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