Practicing Safety in the Garden

Take cautionary measures with all types of gardening gear.
Mowed Lawn

Get Your Yard Shipshape

Get your yard clean and in order. Make sure the grass is mowed, clippings raked and toys and tools are picked up so as not to pose a tripping hazard for your guests.

On the surface, gardening seems like a relatively safe endeavor. However, each year 400,000 people are injured while gardening, many of them seriously. Safety is a genuine concern in the garden, so take caution when using these gardening gizmos.

Lawn Mowers and Chainsaws

A lawn mower, with its blades swirling at a few thousand revolutions per minute, can be a dangerous device. Even though manufacturers include several safety features in their designs, 84,000 people wind up in the emergency room each year as a result of lawn mower injuries.

The most important step to take before you mow is to walk around your lawn and pick up sticks, stones and other objects that could become missiles when they come in contact with mower blades.

Wear a pair of boots, such as hiking or even steel-toed boots. Many lawn-mower injuries involve the feet, and sneakers simply don't offer enough protection from spinning blades. Sandals offer no protection at all. Injuries to the hands occur as well. As obvious as it may sound, don't ever stick your hand under the deck of a mower until you have shut it off and the blade has stopped turning.

Chainsaws can be extremely dangerous, so if you're even slightly unsure of your ability to operate one, even after reading the owner's manual from cover to cover, don't use it. Instead, call a professional.

Blowers and String Trimmers

Blowers and string trimmers can also cause injuries, the most common of which involve the eyes. Wear protective goggles when operating equipment to protect your eyes from flying objects. It is also recommended to wear ear protection to protect ears from the loud engine noise.

String trimmers, in particular, can hurl objects at amazing speeds, so pick up debris before you trim. Wear long pants to protect your legs.

Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters

The increasing popularity of garden tools powered by electricity, including chainsaws, has led to a whole new batch of safety concerns. If you don't have a ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, then get one right away, which costs about $15. You can either install it yourself, which is pretty easy, or have an electrician install it for you.

Or, for less than $30, you can get a GFCI that plugs into a power cord. A GFCI could save your life. It monitors the flow of electricity through a circuit, and if anything disrupts or changes the flow, like a faulty power cord, the GFCI will shut the circuit down before you get electrocuted. Now, you may still get shocked, but the GFCI shuts the circuit down so fast – in 25/1000th of a second – that you're not likely to be seriously injured.

Power Cords

Power cords are a lot like hoses – the more you pay, the more you get – but power-cord nomenclature can be a tad confusing. Basically, what you want is a cord with a gauge, which is a measure of thickness of copper wire inside the cord, between 12 and 16.

Remember the lower the number, the thicker the wire, and the longer the cord, the lower the gauge should be. For example, for a 25- to 50-foot power cord, 16-gauge wire is good, but 14 is even better. For a 50- to 100-foot power cord, 14 gauge is good, but 12 is even better.

If you need a long power cord, like a 100-footer, you might consider buying two 50-footers and linking them together, because much like hoses, power cords can be a pain to coil. For safety's sake, consider looping the two cords together so they don't come apart and short out.

Or get a gizmo that not only secures two cords together but also protects the junction of the two cords from exposure to moisture.

Remember that water and electricity don't mix. So don't operate electrical equipment in the rain or while standing on wet grass.

Head-to-Toe Protection

Gloves offer a measure of protection, especially when you're measuring garden chemicals, in which case you should wear gloves made of nitrile, which is impervious to most chemicals. Even basic gardening gloves can protect the hands from splinters, blisters and cuts.

Eye protection is often overlooked, yet it's as simple as strapping on a pair of goggles. Wear goggles whenever you're doing something in the garden that may pose as a threat to the eyes, from mowing the lawn to running a weed trimmer to chopping wood.

In safety precautions, the ears are probably more overlooked than the eyes. Conventional ear plugs work well, but heavy-duty versions are even more protective.

Perhaps even more overlooked than eyes or ears are the lungs. Routine garden tasks, such as working with peat moss or dusting with sulfur, pose a threat to the lungs. Simple masks are okay for working around non-toxic dusts and many garden chemicals, but those costing twice as much offer more than twice the protection. When using hazardous dusts and liquids, it pays to use a heavy-duty face mask for added protection.

Water Features

Much like swimming pools, ponds and other water features pose a serious threat to children, and short of installing fencing around them, it's difficult to protect curious kids from playing around them. But you can at least talk to neighborhood kids and their parents, and warn them of the potential hazards posed by your pond.

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