Is your garden an accident waiting to happen?

Don't ever try to clear the blades while the lawnmower is running!
123RF

Don't ever try to clear the blades while the lawnmower is running!

Most of us have heard of someone slicing a finger on secateurs or a lawnmower blade - but it's the humble ladder that turns out to be most lethal weapon in our gardens. 

Figures released this week by the ACC show gardening was behind 56,282 claims submitted in 2015 - worth almost $49 million in total - up from 54,516 the previous year. The figures related only to injuries sustained by Kiwis in their back yards, rather than workers in horticulture and related fields.

Back injuries are a leading cause of ACC claims nationwide, and gardening is no exception. In one claim, a gardener reported sweeping and raking leaves, when they tripped on the rake and twisted their back.

Sprinklers are tons of fun in summer - but watch out for the snaking hose!
Murray Wilson/ Fairfax NZ.

Sprinklers are tons of fun in summer - but watch out for the snaking hose!

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In several other claims the simple act of bending to dig or weed caused back or shoulder strain serious enough to require medical attention. Another person "got debris in the eye while gardening".

Ladders were responsible for more than 8000 claims by home gardeners to the ACC last year.
ALASTAIR PAULIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Ladders were responsible for more than 8000 claims by home gardeners to the ACC last year.

One of the more startling stats was the 52 claims relating to sprinklers. It seems the combination of wet grass and snaking hoses is a sure bet for trips, slips and falls for the unwary. After turning the sprinkler on, one person "tripped over the hose, missed step onto path and jarred my knee and hip".

And it's not just tools that are dangerous: stinging insects, rose thorns and random dust have all been named in gardening-related ACC claims too. 

The number of injuries blamed on gardening in general amounted to a whopping 56,282 claims, and the total cost of gardening claims was almost $49m. 

Beware of rakes hidden in fallen leaves.
Michele Mossop

Beware of rakes hidden in fallen leaves.

On its website ACC offers plenty of advice to work out the risks lurking in your garden and avoid injuries. A spokeswoman said: "It's always important to keep in mind that injuries can happen when you least expect." She added: "One piece of wisdom for preventing gardening injuries is to put on a wide brimmed straw hat and some old clothes." It's also important to know your limits, and get someone else to do heavy work like digging if you are not up to it, she said.   

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Andrew Rae, spokesman for McGregor's, said keeping your garden tools well-maintained can help avoid injuries.

"Before getting stuck into a clean-up session in the garden, check to see if your tools are in a suitable condition to perform the task at hand."

LETHAL WEAPONS - AND WHAT THEY COST ACC

Injuries sustained when working with a chainsaw last year led to ACC claims worth more than $1.6m.
Stock Photo/123RF

Injuries sustained when working with a chainsaw last year led to ACC claims worth more than $1.6m.

Here are the garden tools responsible for the most ACC claims in 2015 - and the cost to the ACC, where available.

Ladder: 8,478 

Lawnmower: 6,207 ($6,715,004) 

Axe/slasher/cleaver: 3,046 ($3,809,493)

Rake: 2,157 ($2,740,499)

Hose: 2,034 ($2,193,386)

Shovel: 1,942 ($1,902,309)

Chainsaw: 1,691 ($1,620,616)

Spade: 1,592 ($1,042,481)

Weed eater: 762 ($675,080)

Hedge trimmer: 552 ($377,865)

Garden fork: 390 ($118,351)

Secateurs: 332 ($114,242)

Hoe: 188 ($115,577)

Sprinkler: 92 ($113,680)

Trowel: 84 ($24,113)

TIPS FOR SAFE GARDENING

Many potential hazards can be avoided by planning ahead, using the right tools for the job in hand, wearing the right gear and keeping tools sharp and well maintained. Be realistic about how experienced and fit you are. Call in the professionals for tricky jobs especially those using a chainsaw above shoulder height, up a ladder or tree, or where access is difficult.

* Gloves give protection from scratches and provide a better grip. They'll reduce blistering, fingernail damage, sunburn and prevent dirt or bacteria infecting cuts in your skin.  Choose the right sort for the job: long-sleeved, heavy-duty ones for rose pruning, light ones for dead heading. 

* Safety glasses or goggles will protect you from branches snapping back in your face, flying debris and some screen out UV rays too.  You're also less likely to rub your eyes while wearing glasses so you won't rub in plant sap. Add a face mask to avoid breathing in sawdust and debris. Wear ear muffs or plugs when working with noisy power tools. 

* Wear well-fitting shoes or boots with non-slip soles appropriate for the scale of the job. For anything more than the daintiest of deadheading avoid open-toed sandals. With power tools, wear steel-capped work boots.  

* Don't use a ladder that is damaged or the wrong height. Ensure the base is secure, don't overreach or climb too high. Remember the three points of contact rule – two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand while climbing and two feet and one hand when working. 

* Keep the ground around your feet or the base of a ladder clear, and keep small children and pets out of the way. You'll keep them safe and they won't trip you up or cause an accident by distracting you. Pile pruning debris away from where you'll need to walk. Think about where branches or trees are going to fall. Is the washing line or your car in the line of fire? Check for hidden hazards: for example a wire fence embedded in a hedge or a wasps' nest.

* Be mindful of local fire regulations and seasonal fire bans before lighting up a bonfire of pruned branches. You may need a permit. Be considerate of your neighbours too – don't light up when the neighbour's washing is on the line. Keep the hose handy in case of sparks and don't leave the fire unattended until it is completely extinguished.

* Inspect mains and battery powered mowers, trimmers and shredders before use. Check cords and safety guards for damage or signs of wear.  Prevent shocks with a grounded, insulated three-prong plug or a transformer and only use outdoor extension leads. Switch off tools before connecting to the power supply or changing attachments. Plan your path or cutting direction to avoid chopping through the lead. Wear appropriate protective gear. Most important of all – read the manual! 

* Treat chainsaws with respect – they can be lethal if used carelessly. Get proper instruction from an experienced user or take one of the courses run by education providers for landscapers, life-style block owners, foresters and farmers.

* Only professionals should work around powerlines. You may be liable for any damage to the electricity network or third parties if you undertake unauthorised tree trimming. Check the policy of your local lines company, they may cover the costs of tree maintenance in some cases.

These safety tips come from Pruning Made Easy, NZ Gardener magazine's latest special edition, available for $15.90 from mags4gifts 

 - NZ Gardener

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