Before starting any outdoor horticultural work, take time to equip yourself with the appropriate protective gear for the job.
Damaged or diseased plants are easily replaced, but a damaged eye or an injured hand is irreplaceable.
Safety Gear for Gardening
It’s great to work outside in the winter sun but you still need to protect yourself from UV rays. Always use a sunscreen and a broad-brimmed hat on sunny days.
A waterproof jacket, trousers, boots and gardening gloves will help you stay dry and warm. If you’re not keen on bulky woollen jumpers, see what’s in stock at your local outdoor adventure/camping shop. There are new synthetic fabrics available that are lightweight, waterproof and very warm – just the thing for working outside in winter.
Gloves are probably the most commonly used protective clothing in the garden.
Thin latex gloves are ideal for jobs like potting up plants. They keep the dirt out of your fingernails, without interfering with your ability to handle pots, tools and plants.
Many gardeners favour dishwashing gloves. They are waterproof and not as thick as leather gloves.
Leather gardening gloves are essential for heavy jobs in the garden. Whether it be moving rocks or using a sharp saw to cut a branch from a tree, they will prevent cuts and abrasions to your hands.
PVC gloves are made of heavy duty plastic. Elbow-length PVC gloves should be worn when mixing and spraying chemicals.
Many mechanical garden tools such as lawn mowers and brush cutters can send stones and other small objects flying into the air. Protective glasses and goggles should always be worn when operating this type of equipment. Conventional sunglasses or prescription glasses are not adequate, as they may shatter into pieces and do not cover the area on the side of the eyes.
Sunglasses need to fit properly, and should not fall off when you bend over or move about. They should provide good protection from glare but still allow clear vision when a cloud passes by or if you move into the shade. Sunglasses are notorious casualties amongst gardeners though; so select something cheap and functional, not stylish and expensive.
Many petrol-driven garden machines used in the garden operate at very high decibels (dB). Many modern machines include a dB rating to warn you of the potential risks. Once the noise level gets above 70 dB, there is a very real risk of permanent hearing damage, so hearing protection should always be worn.
When buying ear protection, always look to see that the product conforms to Australian standards. There are two basic types:
Adjustable external ear muffs.
Internal ear plugs that are inserted into the ear. This type is easier to use with other equipment such as protective glasses and face masks. They can be either disposable or reusable.
Don’t forget to look out for other people and pets when you are using machines. Stones and other missiles can easily fly up and hit onlookers. If other people or animals approach while you are using a machine, stop what you are doing, set the machine to idle and wait until they have moved out of range.
There are many airborne hazards to be found in the garden and the potting shed.
Potting mixes have been known to be the source of Legionnaires Disease. When using potting mix always wear a cloth dust mask or sealed face mask to minimise the risk of contracting this potentially fatal disease. Be wary when opening fresh packets of potting mix and don’t allow unused potting mix to dry out.
A dust mask can also be worn when you are digging or weeding in dusty sites. It will prevent you from breathing dirt into your lungs and provide some protection from any pathogens that may be in the soil.
A properly sealed face mask – fitted with a suitable air filter – should always be used when mixing and spraying chemicals.
When spraying herbicides and pesticides it is advisable to use a full body suit for protection. These are made from either reusable plastic or from disposable fibre. If you use conventional clothing when spraying, ensure that no areas of skin are exposed and that all clothes are washed after use. Wash hands thoroughly before eating, drinking or smoking.
Many jobs in the garden have to be done at ground level, so gardeners often find themselves kneeling down. Knee protection will prevent you from wearing out the knees in your trousers and make life easier for those people who have suffered knee injuries in the past.
Knee pads are attached using adjustable straps. They allow you to freely move around the garden without having to bend down for a kneeling mat. However some people, including professional gardeners, find them cumbersome and restrictive.
A kneeling mat can be simply fashioned from an old cushion wrapped in a plastic bag. Purpose-made mats come with handles to help gardeners support themselves as they lower themselves to the ground.
If you’ve ever dropped a brick on your toe, you’ll know that it is not a very pleasant experience. Similarly, with a simple slip of the hand, a spade or garden fork can do serious damage to a human foot. Always wear good sturdy shoes, preferably with steel toe caps.
Gumboots are great for working in wet conditions or for wet and muddy jobs like cleaning out the fish pond.
Ask a chemist what you need. Tell them what you are doing and ask how often you should apply it. You can’t go past expert advice like this.
Skin cancers are a serious risk for anyone who works outside for hours at a time. Certain skin types are more sensitive. Have a regular check for skin cancers by a doctor, and in between times, watch for changes in any marks or spots on your skin, or the development of itchy spots. Particularly sensitive spots can be covered with a thick layer of zinc cream; though nothing substitutes for a doctor’s checkup.
AND FINALLY ....... A GOOD HAT
A good sun hat is an essential piece of equipment for the Australian gardener. Look for a hat with a brim that doesn’t just keep the sun out of your eyes, but also provides protection for your nose and lips.
Many straw hats don’t provide adequate protection. Use a straw hat that is lined or a solid hat made from a material such as rabbit skin.