Spring Fever Is Healthy, Injuries Are Not

Two women gardening on their farm

Posted May 8, 2020 by UVM Health Network

The signs of spring are outside my window. Flowers are starting to bloom and robins are chirping across my lawn to eat worms and other insects. With nowhere to go, I know I'm not the only one tempted to tackle all the yard work projects that have been pushed off due to life and busy schedules. Moreover, gardening can be a wonderful form of stress relief! Between the fresh air, sun light, and connecting with nature, yardwork is great way to disconnect from your worries and the repetitive tasks can have positive, tangible results with similar benefits to meditation.  

But, accidents do happen. Every year our trauma center receives patients injured during garden and yard projects, so I urge you to be safe in your chores, but should you need our care – we are here for you. We know our communities are concerned about safely coming back to the hospitals. Emergency departments and urgent care facilities across the network have made changes, including physical distancing, universal masking and screening to ensure your safety. Plus, we've expanded our care to include video visits with your provider.  

Tips for Staying Safe in the Yard

Chain Saws

When I was out in the community talking about our Stop the Bleed program, you would be surprised how many people had witnessed life-threatening bleeding and how often that bleeding was caused by a chain saw accident. Before you start using a chain saw:

  • Check that all the parts are functioning properly and adjusted according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Make sure the lubrication reservoir is full and that the chain is sharp.
  • Start the chain saw on level ground at least 10 feet from the fueling area with the chain's brake engaged.
  • Wear proper personal protective equipment and clothes that fit close to the body.
  • Keep a charged cell phone on you and have a bleeding control kit or materials you can use to control life-threatening bleeding nearby in case an injury occurs.

Manage Your Tools 

When I am weeding part of my garden, I have a rake, a hoe, and a shovel on hand to tackle the unwanted mass of greenery. But, these tools create a trip hazard. To prevent trips and falls, create a designated area for tools away from your active workspace. Store them tine side down (so you don't reenact a cartoon bit of having the handles jump up and hit you in the face) or standing upright against a fence, wall, or tree. If you often lose or misplace your tools, use bright, colored tape or spray paint to make your tools stand out from your garden.

If you don't have a proper tool for the job, you can reach out to neighbors online through Front Porch Forum or Facebook to see if anyone is willing to lend their tools to you. My neighbor and I have been dropping off tools on each other's porches to avoid face-to-face contact.

Keep Kids and Pets Inside

While the nice weather that drove you to work in the yard can also tempt young children to play, it is important to keep pets and children inside when using power tools, ladders, mowers, or other machinery. Pets and kids are unpredictable and cannot be heard over work noise or through hearing protection.

Do not allow children to ride as passengers on ride-on mowers. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, your teenager might be able to help around the yard – over 12 years old for using a walk-behind mower, and at least 16 for a ride-on.

Set aside specific time for your children to join you in the yard or garden. Age-appropriate jobs can help your kids get the same positive benefits of gardening while keeping them out of the way of danger. If you have the space, you can set them up with their own little container or raised bed garden.

Proper Use of Ladders

Before you use a ladder, double check your ladder to make sure it isn't damaged and that you are familiar with how to properly set it up, lock it into place, and the weight limits.

When on the ladder, try to always maintain three points of contact on the ladder (two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand) and keep your body near the middle of the step. This will keep you and the ladder stable and balanced.

If you or someone in your household falls off a ladder and hits their head, seek medical help immediately to ensure there is no damage or inner brain bleed.

Inspect the Environment

  • Clear away dirt, debris, and rocks from where you will be sawing.
  • Double check for nails or other spikes of metal in the tree before cutting.
  • Set up on a stable level surface and away from hazards, like power lines or mud.
  • When mowing or trimming, check for objects that could be picked up and thrown by the mower or trimmer blades. Look for other hidden dangers like a hole that could cause you to turn an ankle or trip and fall.

Wear Protective Equipment

If you buckle your seat belt when you drive and put on your helmet when you bike then you want to be sure to follow best safety practices for personal protective equipment in your yard.

  • Wear safety glasses or goggles when mowing, using a saw, or power tool. Wear ear protection such as ear plugs or earmuffs since mowers and power tools can produce noise above 85 decibels.
  • Gloves are important for all yard work to protect you from splinters, sharp objects, and poisonous plants.
  • Boots, preferably with a reinforced toe, should be worn when doing all types of yard work. They offer added protection from power tools and mowers and will keep you from breaking a toe when you kick that stubborn rock that won't come out of the ground.

Limit What You Lift

Protect your back and knees by lifting carefully and safely. Lift by bending at the knees and hips and use your leg muscles rather than bending at the waist and straining your back. You can split bags of mulch and compost in half to make them easier to carry or you can use a wheelbarrow or wagon to lower the stress on your body even more.

Stay Alert, Hydrated, and Sober

Especially when using machinery or working at heights, you need to be constantly alert to what's going on around you and what you are doing. Take a break if you are tired or getting sore. Fatigue and distraction can lead to a mishap.

It may be tempting to cool down from the yard work with a cold beer, but staying hydrated and clear-headed is important while working with garden tools. Drink plenty of water when working outside and save the beer for after all of your work is done for the day.

If You Are Injured

Do not hesitate to seek medical care. For minor injuries, you can contact your doctor by phone or seek care through an eHealth video appointment to see if you can treat the injury at home or if you should seek in-person care.

For serious injuries, you can still seek care at an Urgent Care or through the Emergency Department. Staff are trained to limit your potential exposures to COVID-19 infection in these settings. Not seeking treatment for injuries can be dangerous and even deadly, and you never want to delay care for an injury. We are here to care for you.

Learn More Ways to Stay Healthy and Cope with COVID-19