Health and safety in the garden

July 31, 2015

Health and safety in the garden

Summer is a time when nearly everyone likes to spend time outside in a garden (perhaps with the exception of those who suffer from hay fever!) and there are many work environments that have outdoor space for both staff and service users to enjoy. The flowers are in full bloom and the vegetable patch is providing amble fruits and vegetables.

The care home is one environment that is very likely to have a garden and this is also a working environment for staff who access it. The employer will need to consider the many hazards, which sometimes, are not always obvious causes of injury to both staff and service users.

Garden hazards

The starting point is conducting a risk assessment of the garden up to the boundary fence. A risk assessment will identify the potential hazards within a garden and highlight any further controls needed to ensure it remains safe for all users. The main types of hazards to consider in a risk assessment are:

  • Flora and fauna
  • Garden equipment
  • Garden shed and asbestos
  • Poisonous plants
  • Trees and leaves
  • Slip, trips, falls
  • Glass from glasshouse (i.e. broken windows)
  • Rust
  • Pesticides and insecticides
  • Electrical cabling from lawnmowers

Flora and fauna
The droppings of any animals will need to be removed to prevent the spread of pathogenic microorganisms. Foxes, badgers, hedgehogs, rats, mice and rabbits will enter gardens at night and leave unwanted droppings, which will need to be cleared. Ensure staff have the correct gloves and equipment for removing these droppings safely.

Garden equipment
The garden shed is full of different essential garden equipment such as shovel, trowels, pruners, hoes and secateurs. Garden staff need to be familiar with all equipment and wear appropriate personal protective equipment such as garden gloves and good secure shoes.

Garden sheds and asbestos
Something that is not commonly known is that asbestos has been known to be found in the rooves of old garden sheds. These structures are typically made from a material called asbestos cement. The local council environment protection team will be able to give advice on whether to remove the asbestos material.

There should be an asbestos survey for the main building, including any out buildings, and the asbestos specialist conducting the survey will be able to give advice on what action to take.

Poisonous plants
Most people are familiar with the harmful nature of stinging nettles, thorny plants and hog weed, and will avoid touching them. Some plants, however, are grown by many gardeners but the dangers are not as well known. You can gain a hint of the dangerous nature of some plants from their names:

Poison ivy is one example of a poisonous plan which is irritating to the skin along with other beautiful plants, such as the opium poppy, burning bush, devil’s ivy, blackthorn, dragon arum, cobra-lily and deadly nightshade.

However, be aware this is not always the case, as some plants with otherwise innocuous names are also potentially harmful, and can be poisonous or irritating to the body.  Images of safe beautiful plants with names such as foxglove, bluebell, angels trumpet, daffodil, lily of the valley, passion flower, peace lily and snowberry do not alert staff and residents to their hidden dangers.

Trees and leaves
The employer should ensure that leaves are cleared regularly to prevent the slips and falls to both staff and service users. Over hanging branches will need to be cut, and a tree surgeon may be required.

Slips, trips and falls
Service and site managers should ensure that regular planned monitoring through audits and inspections are undertaken, to highlight any potential hazards. Paths and walkways will need to be level, which can be quite a challenge with constant changes in weather causing cracks, chips and soil movement. It is always easier to maintain routes within a building but much more difficult to maintain outside walking paths.

Glass from glasshouse
The hazards of glass causing injuries are well known to the accident and emergency department. Sometimes after turbulent weather broken glass can be found where windows have smashed. This will be picked up when inspections are completed.

Ferric Oxide is the chemical that makes up rust – it is irritating to the body, and harmful. Rust is one of the hazards resulting from old equipment left outside exposed to the rain.

Pesticides and insecticides
The use of pesticides, insecticides and any other hazardous chemicals needs to be assessed, with the correct precautions practiced when storing and handling these chemicals.

Electric shocks
Having electric cabling from the use of outdoor equipment can introduce more hazards to the garden. An RCD (residual current device) is a potentially life-saving device that will help protect against electric shock and reduces the risk of electrical fires.

RCD protection can be sourced relatively cheaply and should be used in conjunction with any garden equipment such as a hedge trimmer, lawnmower or other power tool.

The garden is a relatively safe area but will still need to be risk assessed to ensure it remains safe. Care home and practice/site managers should ensure that regular planned inspections are carried out to ensure the garden remains a safe environment to be enjoyed by all.

QCS Heath & Safety policies

QCS have guidance and policies to support your service in meeting the requirements of health and safety.

Sally Beck RGN, BSc (Hons), MSc, CMIOSH – QCS Expert Health and Safety Contributor


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