5 gardening hazards you should watch out for

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Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a newbie, it’s important to avoid these health and safety hazards when gardening:

  1. Back problems

    Hours bent over tilling the soil or carrying heavy bags of mulch and other gardening materials can strain your back or cause damage to your spine. To prevent back problems, remember to:

    • use a portable garden or kneeling stool – This can protect your spine, knees and joints when you’re working close to the ground.
    • get a wheelbarrow – This will make moving heavy things around the garden easier. Ask for help if you need to load heavy things on your wheelbarrow, otherwise, divide the load into smaller, more manageable chunks. Load heavy things the right way. For example, bend your knees before lifting anything heavy.
    • take breaks – It’s very easy to overexert yourself when you’re enjoying gardening. This can lead to intense muscle and back pain later on. Doctors recommend getting up and stretching every 30-40 minutes. Drink some water, stay in the shade and let your muscles recover.
    • wear proper shoes – Wear shoes that have traction, are secure on your feet and have cushion and arch support. If the ground is slippery, wearing sandals or going barefoot can lead to a bad fall that can injure your back.
  2. Sun burn and heat exhaustion

    Extended sun exposure is bad for your skin. Protect areas like the back of your neck or your face. The heat can also cause dehydration and heat exhaustion if you are not careful. To beat the heat:

    • use sunscreen – Slather sunscreen (preferably SPF 30+) on before going out. You will sweat out the lotion while working so remember to re-apply every two hours.
    • get adequate cover – Put on a hat, a long sleeved shirt and shades if you plan to garden for an extended period.
    • stay in the shade when you can – Use an umbrella on days when the sun is really intense. Shorten your gardening time.
    • stay hydrated – Drink lots of water or other cold beverages but stay away from alcohol and caffeine. These drinks are diuretic and can cause dehydration.
  3. Insect bites

    Tilling the soil and working with plants can expose you to nasty bugs. Avoid ticks, which can be carriers of disease (among them Lyme disease). Prevent bites by using insect repellent and covering your skin. Tuck your pants into your socks and wear a hat. Check yourself before going inside the house to make sure that you’re not carrying bugs and insects inside your home (read Tick season in Manitoba: How to protect yourself from bites for more tips on preventing tick bites).

  4. Poisonous chemicals

    Be careful about using pesticides and fertilizers. Ask advice from an expert at your local gardening centre before using them or use organic mulches and fertilizers to be safe. If you decide to use chemicals for your garden, follow instructions and warning labels. Remember to keep pets and children away.

  5. Cuts and scrapes

    Cuts and scrapes can be caused by sharp gardening tools, thorny plants, rocks and soil debris. Always wear thick gloves to protect your hands, arms and shins. Consider updating your tetanus vaccine (recommended every 10 years) before you do intensive gardening work.

    Article updated April 19, 2021.
    Sources: 10 tips for gardening with a bad back, Sirena Rubinoff, Networx.com; 8 hidden dangers of gardening, Amanda Hawkins, Good Housekeeping.com; Heat stroke vs. heat exhaustion, My healthy feeling; and Gardening health and safety tips, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved May 24, 2018.

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