Safety First

By Kristen Castillo

February 15, 2012 4 min read

Whether large or small, many jobs around the yard -- from trimming trees to cutting the grass -- can be dangerous. Knowing how to use your garden tools and following some general safety guidelines can minimize your risk for injury.

"All tools should be used with caution," says Colleen Maiura of home improvement retailer Lowe's. "Before operating any tool, thoroughly read the manufacturer's operating manual for specific guidance and safety tips. If you have additional questions, contact the manufacturer directly."

*Common Injuries

Getting hurt is a real concern when tackling almost any home improvement or gardening task.

"The most common injuries in my experience are, first, slips, trips and falls," explains Pamela M. Geisel of the University of California Master Gardener Program. "While these don't involve tools, they are the most common injuries."

She says tool injuries most often involve the use of gas-powered lawn mowers.

"The injuries mostly come from the flying debris (rocks, wood chips and dirt clods) from the blades," Geisel says.

"Frequency of use also contributes to the greater number of injuries," she continues. "Injuries from climbing on ladders to prune trees and cleaning out roof gutters would probably be higher if we, as gardeners, got on ladders as frequently as we mow our lawns."

*Tool Inspection

Before starting any garden or home improvement job, you should inspect your surroundings and the work area. Make sure there aren't any possible hazards, such as stray rocks or other items that could get stuck in a tool or ricochet and possibly cause injury.

"I also suggest that people flag or remove low branches that might overhang the lawn," Geisel says. "It is so easy to poke your eye out with head-high branches because you are generally looking down at the lawn and can run into them."

Check your pruning shears, hedge trimmers and other tools to make sure the blades are sharp, clean, well-lubricated and free of mechanical problems.

"With electrical tools, it is important to inspect for frayed electrical cords, cords with poor plug attachments and excessively long or linked extension cords," Geisel says.

For gas-powered tools, including lawn mowers and chain saws, use caution handling and storing the fuel. Be sure to store it in approved flammable-liquid containers. Use the gas in a well-ventilated area to prevent being overcome by fumes.

*Clothing Safety

Don't forget to protect your hands and arms. The risk of cutting yourself while using pruning shears, for example, can generally be avoided by wearing thick gloves.

"Gloves are also an important element in gardening safely," Maiura explains. "Part of the fun of gardening is getting your hands dirty. The feel of good potting soil is a pleasure; the feel of thorns, mud, stones and blisters is another thing altogether."

Gloves can also protect your skin from contact with garden chemicals. Maiura suggests looking for ones with cuffs to keep materials from getting inside the glove, as well as "gloves with gauntlets to protect wrists and forearms. Rose gloves are a good example."

Wearing the right clothes can help prevent injury, too.

"Proper safety attire includes gloves, eyewear and sometimes ear protection, depending on the tool and situation," Maiura says. "For example, when using a pole pruner, wear head and eye safety gear for protection from falling material, and always be aware of overhead utility lines."

Even some simple jobs, such as mowing the lawn, require a specific uniform -- for example, close-toed shoes and long pants.

Consider earplugs, too. "Wear ear protection," Geisel urges. "Even if it isn't that loud, the combined impact on your eardrums can cause deafness over time."

No matter what the project, staying safe is the priority.

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