Avoid these landscaping hazards!

Reports tell us that the majority of personal-injury accidents occur in the home. If that's the case, then garden and landscape-related injuries can't be far behind!

About 230,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries relating to various lawn and garden tools annually. That sounds like the kind of statistic that deserves to get our attention, so today I'll mention some potential outdoor hazards and how to avoid them.

But first let me stress that working on your landscape is an extremely healthy pursuit and great exercise, too. Proof? I'll bet you haven't seen too many flabby, overweight professional landscapers! However, they know the importance of being alert to potential injuries, and so should you.

Each year, about 75 people are killed and about 20,000 are injured on or near riding lawnmowers and garden tractors, according to an informative article at http://www.consumeraffairs.com/recalls/mower_safety.html You can find a direct hot link to the article by going to my web site www.landsteward.org and finding this column on "The Plant Man" page. According to the article, one out of every five deaths involves a child. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that most of the deaths to children occur when a child is in the path of a moving mower.

What can you do to prevent a tragedy?

Make sure no children are in the yard when you're mowing. Keep an eye out for them even after you've told them to stay away. You might have noticed that kids don't always stay in the last place you saw them.

Children are fascinated by mowers and it's tempting to give them a treat by letting them ride on the mower with you. Please resist the temptation! Hundreds of children are seriously injured every year when they fall from mowers, sometimes into the path of the blades.

Even when a mower is turned off, there is a danger to children. Emergency rooms treat many children who have burned their hands on the mufflers of mowers and other power tools.

Of course, adults are also at risk. You can reduce the risk considerably with a few common sense precautions.

Clothing: Fingers, toes and eyes seem to be the most vulnerable parts of your body when you're working outdoors. Save the "shorts and bare feet" look for the beach! Wear sturdy shoes, preferably with non-slip rubber soles, gloves and eye protection. Avoid wearing loose fitting clothes and jewelry that can get tangled in the moving parts of power tools.

Survey: Before mowing, rotor-tilling or cranking up the Weed Eater, take a walk around the area and pick up any rocks, metal, wire, glass, string (yes, string) or other debris that could cause injury.

Stay Dry: Never (as in: not ever) use electrical tools in wet or damp conditions. Only use extension cords that are rated for use outdoors. Consider investing a few dollars in a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) that you can add to your extension cord.

Clearing Jams: Remember the Simpson’s episode where Homer is mowing and the mower suddenly stops. "Here, son," says Homer. "You've got small hands. Reach under there and see what's jamming the blade." Even Bart wasn't dumb enough for that, but amazingly, a lot of people ARE that dumb. Unplug all electric tools and disconnect spark plugs on gas-powered tools before attempting to tinker with any moving parts. Your fingers will thank you for it!

Gasoline: Gasoline should be stored outside your home if possible, on a high shelf away from heat sources, in a labeled container approved for gas storage, according to advice you can find at this web site:http://www.homesafetycouncil.org/encyclopedia_d09_lawn.asp and again, there's a link from this column at my web site. To transport gasoline, they advise, place a sealed and approved container in the trunk of your car with the trunk lid propped open slightly and drive directly to your refueling site. Don't store gasoline containers in your vehicle.

Posture: Take a stretch break frequently. Stretch your arms and legs and especially your back. Wear kneepads if your outside work will require you to kneel for more that a few minutes. Consider buying one of those little roll-along gardening stools, too.

Garden Tools: In a future article I'll have a few tips for keeping your tools in good shape so that they'll last longer, work better and be safer for you to use. And I'll also have some thoughts about the safe use of pesticides.

Working on your landscape is healthy and enjoyable. Taking just a few common-sense precautions before you start will ensure both your health and your enjoyment!