Yard work might be described as “back breaking,” but that shouldn’t be taken literally. In the past 10 years, emergency rooms reported almost 3.2 million injuries related to lawn care. Put down the pruning shears and read on for health and safety tips for landscaping.
We’ll cover everything you need to know to prepare for yard work safely and reduce your risk for the most common landscaping accidents.
- 1. Power equipment safety
- 2. Dress for success
- 3. Call before you dig
- 4. Be smart with ladders
- 5. Go for raised garden beds
- 6. Time your landscaping
- 7. Protect against bugs
- 8. Don’t overexert yourself
- Call a pro
1. Power equipment safety
With great power comes great responsibility – and power tools are no exception. With proper maintenance, protective gear, and using the right technique, you can greatly reduce your risk of harm. With all tools, it’s important to stay vigilant and not use them if your focus or energy is compromised.
Pro Tip: Store your garden tools in a safe way. It’s more common than you might think to step on a stray rake or get hit in the head with a poorly-stored spade. Make sure you know where everything is and that it’s securely in place.
A string trimmer is a great way to clean up your lawn’s edges fast, but it can cut your skin or fling debris in your direction, causing lacerations and splinters.
Tips for string trimmer safety:
- Make sure there are no toys or fallen branches that could get kicked up.
- Make sure all children and pets are at least 50 feet away from the area where you’re working.
- Don’t start a gas trimmer inside. Carbon monoxide can collect and become lethal.
- Start a gas trimmer on solid ground to keep yourself stable.
- Keep the cord on electric string trimmers out of the way so you don’t trip over it or slice it with the trimmer.
- Only use a string trimmer when you’re standing on the ground and keep it below waist level.
- Cut away from yourself to avoid getting hit by the thing you’re cutting.
Chain saws are obvious safety hazards when landscaping, but sometimes they’re the best tool for the job. With proper precautions, you can feel confident operating one.
Tips for chain saw safety:
- Wear snug-fitting clothing, sturdy shoes, gloves, and a helmet with a face shield. Cut-resistant chaps are also a great way to protect your legs.
- Check that your chain saw is in good condition. The cutting chain should be sharp, tensioned, and oiled.
- Stand on solid ground when starting the chain saw.
- Kickback usually happens when you cut with the tip of the chain and bar. Opt for the middle.
- Never saw while on a ladder or with the saw above your shoulders.
- Consider calling an arborist for trees wider than 6 inches in diameter.
Although a pressure washer doesn’t have any sharp edges, it has the power of 30 to 80 times that of a garden hose. That’s enough force to put a groove in a wood deck, so one can imagine the kind of damage the concentrated water spray can inflict on a human body.
Tips for pressure washer safety:
- Don’t use a gas-power pressure washer indoors.
- Avoid zero-degree nozzles (nozzles that condense all of the force into one pinpoint). Opt for nozzles with 15, 25, or 40-degree settings.
- Wear goggles, sturdy shoes, and long pants.
- Don’t use a pressure washer while you’re on a ladder.
- Be extra careful on wet surfaces that may be slick.
- Turn the pressure washer off and drain the excess water from the wand before changing out the spray tip.
Many injuries are caused by one of the most common pieces of equipment: your lawn mower. From sharpening the blade to dodging debris, walk-behind and riding mowers can cause a lot of harm. Check out our full guide to mower safety.
Tips for lawn mower safety:
- Always release the mower’s bail lever (the “deadman” control) before reaching down to clear a branch out of the way.
- Don’t mow the grass when it’s wet.
- Wear work gloves when performing any maintenance tasks on your mower.
- Make sure your mower’s off and the engine is cold before working on it, and be sure to disconnect the spark plug or remove the battery.
- Add gas outdoors, not inside a shed or garage.
- Mow up and down slopes with a riding mower to reduce the risk of it tipping over. Mow parallel across slopes with a walk-behind mower so it’s easier to push and control.
Hedge clippers are one of the most convenient inventions of the modern age. Gone are the times of sore forearms from hours spent with a pair of pruning shears. However, this sharp and powerful tool can be dangerous if used incorrectly.
Tips for hedge clipper safety:
- Wear hand, eye, and ear protection.
- Don’t pour fuel into a running trimmer or trimmer that’s still hot.
- When adding fuel, use a funnel or a flexible hose to pour it in safely.
- Use both hands to hold the hedge trimmer.
- Keep your right hand on the throttle when operating.
- Exercise caution when near windows.
2. Dress for success
Clothing and protective gear can go a long way in preventing injuries of all kinds — from minor cuts to major slips and falls. Although it may seem annoying at first, things like gloves actually allow you to work outside for longer periods of time (ever had to stop because of a blister?).
Tips for dressing for yard work:
- If you’re using a mower or other loud equipment, use hearing protection like ear muffs or ear plugs.
- Wear gloves to prevent skin irritation (especially when working with chemicals like fertilizer), improve your grip on tools, and protect from splinters and blisters.
- Wear eye protection like safety goggles.
- Wear sturdy shoes that provide good traction when operating power tools.
- Put on a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to keep your skin protected from the sun.
3. Call before you dig
If you’re itching to get a drainage or irrigation system in place, it can be tempting to break ground as soon as possible. It’s essential to know what you’re digging into, though, because you could strike a power or gas line.
The solution? Simple: Dial the Call Before You Dig hotline at 811. You’ll get access to city plans, including the location of any underground utilities. When you call, you’ll give them the address of the site, exact location on the property, and what kind of project you’re completing. It takes a few days for your request to be fully processed.
4. Be smart with ladders
Even if you don’t have a fear of heights, ladders can be frightening. Nonslip shoes, a ladder in good condition, and common sense will go a long way in keeping you safe, but there are a few other steps you can take.
Follow these tips before climbing up to save yourself from a wobbly situation:
- Inspect the ladder for damaged rungs and loose bolts, screws, and hinges.
- Lock or bolt any doors that might swing open near you.
- Set the ladder up on a solid surface without clutter around.
- For straight ladders, place the base 1 foot away from the wall for every 4 feet of height.
- If you’re going to climb onto the roof from the ladder, the ladder should extend past the roof at least 3 feet.
- Use both hands to go up and down, and always face the ladder.
- Don’t climb higher than the second step from the top on a stepladder or the third from the top on a straight ladder.
Even if the job seems important, don’t brave bad weather with a ladder. High winds and storms can cause slips and falls.
5. Go for raised garden beds
Whether you’re interested in a gourmet edible garden or a beautiful flower bed for bouquets, consider a raised garden bed. A raised garden bed is essentially a planting bed contained in a frame (usually wooden) that sits on top of the existing soil.
How does this swap help you? A raised garden bed brings the ground closer, which means less hunching over or kneeling to take care of your plants. You can build a raised garden as tall as you want so you don’t have to bend over at all. Even if you don’t have knee or back problems now, it’s a good way to prevent future injury from repeated stress.
Pro Tip: If you don’t want to install raised garden beds, the Arthritis Foundation recommends using long-handled tools or attachments that lengthen existing tools so you don’t have to stoop. A kneeling pad or a scooter wagon also can make lawn chores easier on your body.
6. Time your landscaping
Restructuring your lawn care schedule can be the key for making it more enjoyable. There are two things to think about before heading outdoors: heat and allergies.
Scheduling lawn care around heat
Did you know that more than 600 people die from extreme heat every year in the United States? Older adults, children, and people with chronic health issues are most at risk. Doing yard work during the hottest part of the day isn’t just dangerous due to temperature; heat stroke can cause fainting or dizziness, which makes operating power tools risky.
Instead of breaking out your mower in the middle of the afternoon, do yard work early in the morning. Early evening is the second best time — just make sure it’s still light enough to see what you’re doing.
Scheduling lawn care around allergies
Allergies are a headache and exacerbating them can worsen other health conditions, prevent proper sleep, and irritate your respiratory system. Just because you get sniffly at the sight of pollen doesn’t mean you have to lock yourself inside, but there are a few things you can do to reduce your symptoms.
- Choose a cloudy or windless day for lawn care. This resource from the National Allergy Bureau shows you the mold and pollen levels in your area on any given day.
- Consider taking an antihistamine before yard work to prevent symptoms.
- Keep your windows closed while mowing the lawn and for a few hours after.
- Wear a National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health-approved mask, hat, glasses, and gloves.
- Leave all tools outside and wash them regularly.
- Take a shower after gardening or yard work (probably a good idea even if you don’t have allergies!).
7. Protect against bugs
Bug bites can be a huge deterrent to getting that yard project finished. Not only are the itchy culprits annoying, but they also can be dangerous. Creatures like bees, spiders, ants, and snakes can cause potentially serious bites and stings. Mosquitoes aren’t the only disease-carrying insect in residential backyards, either — ticks are common in yards with tall grass or are located near wooded areas.
How do you make sure they don’t cause problems for you? Here are a few bug-fighting tips:
- Wear long sleeves and pants tucked into your socks so they can’t get at your ankles or under the pant leg.
- Use an insect repellant that contains DEET.
- Check your clothes for ticks before you come inside, then check your body for any bites in the shower.
In addition to making yourself less attractive to bugs, you can make your landscape less attractive, too by eliminating their hiding spots and habitats. Keep grass mowed to its recommended height, get rid of standing water in your yard or change it regularly, and clear the landscape of objects like tires, empty planters, buckets, and food and water dishes for pets.
8. Don’t overexert yourself
The best thing you can do to ensure you’re able to take care of your landscape for years to come is to listen to your body. Always make sure to drink water and if you’re feeling fatigued, take a break inside. If you haven’t recovered after 30 minutes, it’s time to call it a day whether the project’s finished or not.
Take note of what conditions work best for you and leave you feeling energized instead of wiped after a day outside. Taking five to 10 minutes to stretch beforehand can help you keep going longer and avoid injury. Replenishing your electrolytes with a sports drink or a bit of salt (alongside a lot of water) also can help you recover faster.
Pro Tip: Always lift and bend in a way that doesn’t exhaust and strain your back. For example, instead of bending from your waist to pick up leaves, bend from your knees. When lifting something heavy, keep your back straight and tense your core and lower half to lift.
Call a pro
Knowing your limits is the best way to stay safe. For bigger projects you’re not sure you can handle it’s always best to call a professional team who has the proper labor power, experience, and equipment for the job.
If you’d rather leave tree trimming and other high-risk lawn care tasks to the experts, contact a Lawn Love landscaping pro to do the heavy lifting for you. If you want to keep your weekends free, they can also help with mowing and general lawn maintenance.
Main Photo Credit: Greta Hoffman | Pexels