Spring is a breath of fresh air for Northwest Ohioans. We’ve spent the last several months holed up indoors, staring out at a lifeless landscape and overcast skies, wondering whether warm weather will ever return again. So, when that first balmy spring day finally arrives, many of us simply can’t resist the urge to head outside and tackle a few lawn and garden chores.
But after a long winter of inactivity, it’s wise to ease back into some of the more physically demanding warm-weather activities, such as raking, digging, soil cultivation, transplanting, weeding, and mowing. In addition to taking it easy, it’s essential to:
Take steps to prevent cumulative injuries
Athletes who have been out of the game for a prolonged period must return to peak performance in very gradual steps or they risk sprains, strains, and other cumulative injuries. The same is true when you try to tackle lawn and garden chores after a long winter spent “cruising the couch.”
Keep in mind that tending your lawn and garden is not a competition. There are no prizes for finishing first, but there may be negative consequences for pushing too hard. Take frequent breaks, and, if necessary, try to spread major tasks out over several days. For example, if you have a big mulching project ahead of you, why not tackle it one planting bed at a time rather than all at once? If a job is especially overwhelming or potentially dangerous, consider hiring a professional landscaper instead of trying to handle it yourself. The modest investment may very well save you a painful, debilitating injury.
Other steps you can take to prevent cumulative injury include:
- Keep your back as straight and erect as possible while using long-handled tools (rakes, shovels, hoes, cultivators, etc.) and when working in a crouched position.
- Always lift with your knees, not your back.
- Frequently alternate the arm you are using.
- Keep your elbows bent, and avoid resting your weight on your elbows.
- Grip tools gently.
- Limit the amount of time spent working above shoulder level to five minutes or less.
Take care with power equipment
While poor gardening or landscaping ergonomics can lead to aggravating pain, the improper use of power tools can have much more serious consequences. Hence, the utmost caution must be used at all times when power tools are in operation to prevent injury to the user or other people in the vicinity. Here are a few power-tool-safety pointers to keep in mind:
Dress for success
Before firing up your lawnmower, weed whacker, chipper shredder, hedge clippers, lawn edger, or any other outdoor power tool, make sure you’re dressed properly for the task at hand. Wear close-fitting, full-length pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and remove any dangling jewelry. Your shoes should be sturdy with slip-resistant soles. Protect your hands with a durable pair of work gloves. Of course, safety goggles and hearing protection are a must.
Survey the site and check the equipment
Give the work area a thorough “once over” to check for any objects that might damage the equipment or interfere with safe operation, and remove any objects or debris that might become a projectile. Make sure all equipment safety devices and features are in place and fully operational before starting work. Also, check the equipment for loose belts, missing or damaged guards, a buildup of grass or leaves, or any obvious structural defects. If you are not completely familiar with the proper operation techniques for the tool you are using, refer to your owner’s manual for a refresher.
Know where the children are
Like water and electricity, young children and power tools are a very dangerous combination. Make sure young children are indoors and under close adult supervision before starting up any power tool. The same applies to pets. When mowing, exercise extreme caution while backing up, turning corners, or approaching any objects that obscure your vision (trees, shrubs, air-conditioning unit, storage shed, etc.). Under no circumstances should young children be allowed to operate or ride on a riding lawnmower—even if an adult is present. Teens should be allowed to operate a riding mower only if they demonstrate adequate physical strength and maturity.
Remember electrical safety
When using electrical power tools, avoid working in wet or damp conditions and make sure your extension cords are in good condition, rated for outdoor use, and the proper gauge for the particular tool you’re using. As a safeguard against electrocution, use a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) in conjunction with all of your electrical power tools. A GFCI will instantaneously disrupt the flow of current in the event that a short develops—for example, if the power tool is exposed to water.
Store lawn and garden tools safely
Power tool safety doesn’t end when the equipment is turned off and stored away in the garage or shed. Unattended tools should be made inoperable—by engaging locking mechanisms, disconnecting sparkplugs, etc.—to prevent curious children from getting injured. Also, many power tools have sharp blades that can cause lacerations even when turned off. Such tools should be stored well beyond the reach of little hands. Of course, gasoline should be stored in an approved container a safe distance from the house and any ignition source. ❦