We like to talk about the many benefits that gardening has – whether it is for the environment, our physical health, our mental health, and our community. One thing we rarely talk about is the flip side of the activity where there are certain inherent risks that come with gardening. We’ll be discussing what risks you might need to consider before getting down and dirty.

First off, we want to stress safety in all activities, especially when it comes to to proper use of tools and equipment. Always read and follow the instructions, use tools as they were intended, and use common sense when undertaking various activities. Here are some of the main risks and how you can mitigate and assess how you want to respond.

1. Muscle Aches, Pains, and Strains
Gardening is an active activity. It can include bending, lifting, digging, planting, and more using a wide range of muscle groups. Whenever a new project is undertaken, be sure to practice safe movement patterns like lifting with your legs instead of your back and be aware of your physical limitations so as not to overdo an activity and injure yourself.

We’ve talked about stretching and warming up before gardening in Tip #121, and we also encourage you to get help whenever large or difficult tasks need to be completed.

To minimize muscle pain, you can choose to engage in lower impact activities like raised bed gardening (instead of double digging), choosing containers on wheels when using larger planters, and keeping sharp tools on hand to minimize extra work.

2. Viruses and Bacteria
Our world is complex and integrated ecosystem with a rich range of organisms from large to small. For better or for worse, there are some organisms that are not so friendly when it comes to human health including viruses and bacteria. Some plants and gardening surfaces can be vectors for virus and diseases like tetanus, sporotrichosis and West Nile.

Understand what viruses and bacteria could be present in your ecosystem should any symptoms appear. Talk to your health care provider if you are uncertain about any adverse side effects.

3. Plant and Insect Related Risks
If it is not the micro world of bacteria and viruses to be careful of, larger organisms can also be a source of risk from things like thorns, stingers, and poisons. Almost all of us have experienced many of these things firsthand including bees, wasps, stinging nettle, poison ivy, rose thorns, giant hogweed, and more.

Be careful where you work, especially if you are around bee hives or wasp nests, or if the environment is more conducive to certain species of plants/insects known to be dangerous.

4. Other Personal Health Risks
Finally, there are additional risks when more powerful tools are involved. Proper eye and ear protection must be worn when using power tools like chainsaws and power saws, anywhere sharp cutting blades are present, and where powered machinery is being utilized. Improper use can lead to hearing loss, loss of limb, or other bodily harm can occur.

It is especially important that a safe work space, be familiar with the tools, and have enough strength to properly handle all equipment to minimize and mitigate these risks.

Finally, one thing that didn’t fit nicely in our classification was the risk from sun exposure. Most gardening takes place outdoors in the sun, and prolonged exposure without adequate protection can lead to serious issues like skin cancer.

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