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Basic everyday safety equipment.

Basic everyday safety equipment.

Unfortunately the last thing many of us thing about as we head out to work in our gardens is that we may suffer a serious injury or even death. The day is sunny and not too warm. The ground is still moist from last night’s rain. The birds are singing, and your flowers are blooming. But now is not the time to let your guard down. A serious injury or worse could end your days of enjoying your garden.

The very nature of injuries and accidents are that they are unexpected – and occur when several acts of fate coincide. In retrospect they can almost always be seen as “freak.” We comment later, “If only this or that hadn’t happened.” But while they are always lurking, we can prevent them – just take the time to prepare for the worst, and go overboard in protecting yourself – especially in those areas known for injuries and accidents.

Do you ever mix up insecticides, cleaning solutions, or fertilizer without eye protection? Don’t lie, I know you do. But what would be worse than blinding yourself and never being able to enjoy the sight of your garden? Especially since it is so easy to prevent. I confess, I sometimes would get lazy, or couldn’t find my safety glasses. One time I was adding some chlorine tablets to a pool chlorinator, I dropped them in and turned my head away. But somehow a single drop of concentrated chlorine splashed out and found it’s way to my eye. Short story, instant burn and panicked drive to the emergency room, wondering if that eye would ever see well again.

The spines of a Phoenix roebelenii. And there are many worse.

The spines of a Phoenix roebelenii. And there are many worse.

I met a palm grower several years ago with an eye patch. He explained to me that an Acrocomia palm spine had put his eye out many years earlier. And his warning to me was that when you have one eye left, you will never again forget eye protection when needed. Even when not “needed” you never know when you might walk into that sharp stem. And I know of several people with severe spine wounds from cutting fronds with spines from tall palms and having them fall onto their body.

A friend of mine put some little potted Phoenix roebelenii around his spa. One night after some drinking, one of his visitors slipped after getting out. He put his hand out to brace his fall, right into the palm. A spine went all the way through the palm of his hand, and came out the other side. That story still makes me wince when I think of it. And to make matters worse, spine wounds are notorious for getting infected.

But now for some real horror stories.

The Best Man at my wedding was killed doing some of his own “gardening.” With some friends they had been cutting down some tall straight pine trees to make a clearing. They would cut and when it started to fall they would run behind another pine and hide until it fell. Well, apparently he hid, but wanted to watch one fall. He stuck his head out around the edge of the pine he was hiding behind and the falling tree “rode” the edge of that pine and clipped his head.

Gloves are always a good idea.

Gloves are always a good idea.

While that is obviously dangerous and something you might expect could kill you, other seemingly minor tasks can be just as dangerous. The smallest of tools can kill you. Another friend of mine almost died when cutting some tubing for irrigation with a razor knife. He placed the tubing between his legs while slicing and slipped. He cut into his femoral artery. If you don’t know how lethal that can be, look it up. He was lucky that he had his cell phone with him, and he was close to a hospital. They made it to him in time as he lay down after setting a tourniquet and applied pressure until the ambulance got there promptly.

I understood how that can happen, because years before, I almost cut off the tips of two fingers doing the same thing – applying a lot of pressure to a razor knife as it slips through what you are trying to cut. So, don’t ever leave a body part close or behind what you are cutting – no matter how much control you think you have. Always cut away from yourself. A new sharp blade is unforgiving. It is not always the scary looking equipment that can get you.

This is a four year old being airlifted after wanting to be too close to daddy. Daddy backed up, without looking.

This is a four year old being airlifted after wanting to be too close to daddy. Daddy backed up, without looking.

Lawn mower accidents are notorious. And it is not only the blade that presents a hazard. I was cutting my lawn one day and I heard a thunderous thud and then an instantaneous crash as a large window to my house, about 100 feet away, shattered and spread shards of glass throughout my house – embedding some into the wall. The mower had hit a golf ball and hit it at must have been 100 mph out the side. We used to practice on the lawn, but don’t anymore. Luckily no one was in the house at the time, or in the path of the golf ball.

Of course the heavy equipment is always dangerous, but a lapse in judgement or short cuts can still cause serious injury and death. After a full day working around small excavator making some garden paths I removed my helmut and safety glasses as the operator prepared to leave. However, we saw one more thing that needed to be done. You guessed it, a freak accident resulting in a cable snapping and a hook hitting me in the head 40 ft away sent me to the emergency room for stitches. If I had been looking I would have had extensive eye or tooth damage.

And a newlywed  I knew, happy with newborn twins, was killed when an overweight equipment operator accidentally dropped a bucket on his head when the operator’s fat gut hit a lever as he left the machine.

How safe does this look?

How safe does this look?

So, you get the idea. You can never be too careful. But the most dangerous of all garden chores is climbing a ladder – over 100 deaths per year. More injuries occur when using a ladder than anything else. It doesn’t take a fall from very high to permanently injure your knee or wrist so that normal activities are forever a thing of the past. I could relate some stories with ladders as well.

And don’t forget the obvious precautions. Along with sun protection, there is also protection from insects, animals (snakes), and hazardous plants – all of which can cause serious injuries to some people. Don’t forget hearing protection when using mowers, chain saws, etc. And when working in uneven terrain, good boots could save an ankle fracture.

So, if you want to continue to enjoy you time in the garden, please be careful. And pass along this message to others. If you have a lesson you can share with us, please do so.  You could save someone a lot of grief. Just comment below.

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