Don't let safety measures slide while working outdoors in the summer

Contributing Gardening ColumnistJuly 12, 2013 

Aside from cultivating dazzling flowers, well-manicured lawns and healthy, homegrown fruits and vegetables, gardeners need to commit to good safety habits during the summer.

It's not that we are unaware of the dangers presented by whirring blades, hazardous chemicals and overzealous exercise, but that we choose to dismiss these threats when making decisions to get a job finished. With the risk of losing one's health, vision or hand, or when the life of a child is at stake, taking safety precautions is worth the extra time needed to store and use equipment properly, stock up on gloves and safety gear, and study labels on pesticides and herbicides.

The American Society for Surgery of the Hand, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the American Academy of Pediatricians and the American Academy of Ophthalmology represent people who deal with the consequences of accidents and issues resulting from gardening mishaps. These groups and many others offer tips and guidance to help keep you safe.

Mowers

From 2010 to 2012, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said the number of injuries that led to treatment at an emergency room averaged 38,000 a year from walk-behind power mowers and 34,000 a year due to riding mowers. Although it notes that lawn mowers are safe if used correctly, caution is necessary when mowing. It compares the kinetic energy of a standard rotating mower blade to that of dropping a 21-pound weight from a height of 100 feet. The impact of that force on a hand or foot could not only maim but infect the affected area.

Precautions based on the history of mowing injuries include avoiding mowing wet grass or damp ground; not removing grass or debris by inserting hands or feet into the mower; wearing protective boots, goggles and long pants; not drinking alcoholic beverages when mowing; and being cautious when mowing on a slope. Leave all safety devices attached to the mower, and read the instruction manual before use.

For details, go to Bit.ly/15tMNCs. For additional product safety information, visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's website at Cpsc.gov.

Chemicals

The Environmental Protection Agency's user-friendly website, Epa.gov, covers a lot of ground. From President Barack Obama's plan for addressing climate change to a searchable summary of environmental issues and statistics for your ZIP code, advice is available for a broad range of subjects, including topics for home gardeners and urban agriculture advocates.

Information about reducing your exposure to harmful substances includes suggestions for soil testing, especially in reclaimed urban areas where industrial pollutants might have gotten into the soil, to safe handling of poisons, using pesticides wisely and even awareness of the dangers of air pollution from backyard waste burning.

Another great resource is the National Pesticide Information Center's website at Npic.orst.edu. Mosquito, tick and other disease-carrying insects are discussed, along with health and safety issues surrounding their control.

Eyes

On its health information website, Geteyesmart.org, the American Academy of Ophthalmology lists as common causes of eye injuries the use of power mowers and power trimmers or hedgers, which can throw rocks or other garden debris; hammering or screwing nails, which can become projectiles; and garden chemicals. It notes that protective eye gear approved by the American National Standards Institute, or ANSI, can prevent 90 percent of these injuries to workers and onlookers.

Other precautions include double-checking to be sure nozzles are pointed away from your face when spraying, and cushioning sharp edges. Go to Bit.ly/11yJ0EM for details.

Children

Make your landscape kid-friendly and safe. The policy statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics (Aap.org) on pesticide exposure in children (Bit.ly/VisaF3) addresses unique threats that pesticides present to health and development, both immediate and over time. On the topic of lawn mowers or other power equipment, it advises keeping children indoors when the devices are in use, and not allowing children to ride on mowers.

The academy's website for parent advice is Healthychildren.org. There, you'll find many ideas, including removing poisonous plants from your garden; keeping children out of a yard that has been treated with herbicide within 48 hours; and avoiding the use of scented soaps or lotions, which could attract insects.

Summer safety tips are available at Bit.ly/15tM6cA.

Susan Smith-Durisek is a master gardener and writer from Lexington. Email: durisek@aol.com. Blog: Gardening.bloginky.com.

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