We tend to think of our love of gardening as a healthy pursuit; however there are some very real health risks that we need to be aware of and protect ourselves from.
Some of the dangers are from the use of lawnmowers and other gardening equipment so make sure that you take sensible precautions such as:
- Wearing enclosed shoes, preferably safety boots with steel toecaps.
- Wear appropriate eye protection, such as safety goggles.
- Wear long trousers, to protect your legs against flying debris.
- Always comply with the manufacturer’s instructions on proper use of the equipment.
- Don’t tamper with or remove safety guards or safety devices from equipment.
- Check your equipment regularly to ensure it’s in good working order.
- Clean your equipment regularly.
- Don’t stand on the highest rungs of a ladder because there’s a high risk of tipping. Falling from a ladder can result in fractures, dislocations and soft tissue injuries.
- Wear earmuffs or plugs when using noisy.
Always wear sun protection including a hat, long sleeves and sunscreen and always supervise children in the garden and keep equipment and chemicals locked away and out of reach of children.
You also need to be aware of the dangers lurking in the soil and organic material that you handle in the garden.
With the recent flooding throughout Queensland there has been an increase in the number of people contracting Melioidosis – a disease caused by bacteria called Burkholderia pseudomallei. These bacteria live deep in the soil when the conditions are dry and come to the surface in wet conditions and are commonly found in the surface water and mud.
Melioidosis infections are more common in the Northern Territory, Northern Queensland and Asia.
There is no vaccine for this so you need to take care to protect yourself by wearing waterproof shoes or boots to protect your feet when you walk in wet soil, where there is pooled water or if you work in muddy conditions, for example, when gardening or working in excavations. Open footwear such as sandals are not good protection. Protective gloves should be worn when handling soil, particularly in wet conditions.
Always treat wounds promptly and by thoroughly washing the wound and keeping it covered. For more details please read the Melioidosis fact sheet.
Fungi is also a problem for gardeners with around 50,000 species found on decaying vegetation. Fungi reproduce by the production of spores that are easily transported via air.
Fungi can cause human diseases in three ways; infection particularly for those with reduced immune function, allergic reaction and toxins. The main health risk from exposure to fungi is from inhalation of organic dusts containing fungal spores causing respiratory symptoms.
A common mould, Aspergillus fumigatus which grows strongly on self heating compost can liberate vast numbers of spores that are able to penetrate deeply into the respiratory system. People spreading compost and mulch around their garden are particularly vulnerable to this and other fungi. It is very important that you protect yourself by wearing a mask and gloves.