This information is kindly supplied by the Ministry of Health and is republished from their website https://www.healthed.govt.nz/resource/safer-and-healthier-gardening
Gardening is one of the most popular leisure activities in New Zealand. It lets people enjoy nature and grow their own produce.
However, despite its quiet, healthy image, there are some risks involved in gardening. This simple safety guide is designed to help you reduce these risks and get even more enjoyment from your garden.
Wash hands thoroughly after working with soil or handling soil-type products, mulches, compost or potting mix. Although soil is rich with many organisms that help the growth of healthy plants, there are also unwelcome organisms, such as tetanus and legionella. These can be found in garden soils and composted organic material, including commercially prepared products such as potting mix and soil conditioners. These products can be reinfected even after sterilisation.
Legionellosis (or legionnaires’ disease) is a form of pneumonia. It’s caused by a bacteria called legionella, an environmental organism that lives in moist conditions. You can catch the disease by inhaling airborne droplets or particles containing the bacteria. There has been no reported person-to-person spread of legionellosis.
The illness may be mild or severe and can sometimes be fatal. It is more common in older people, particularly if they smoke, have poor immunity or have a chronic illness. To reduce the risk of exposure to legionella:
See your doctor immediately if you develop a flu-like illness that is worsening. Antibiotics are effective against legionellosis if given early.
Tetanus is a serious illness at any age. Animal manures may contain this organism and it can be picked up through broken skin and puncture wounds.
Sometimes gardeners use chemical or non-chemical mixes to control pests and diseases. These can be hazardous if used, stored or disposed of incorrectly. Insecticides, herbicides and fungicides can help keep your garden looking great, but there are other techniques you can use.
“Companion planting” works on the theory that certain kinds of plants grow best when planted together. Some plants have a naturally deterrent effect on predators, and other plants attract helpful insects. For more information about these techniques, consult gardening books and magazines or contact your local gardening centre.
To reduce the risks from chemicals:
Some common garden plants are poisonous. They can cause a variety of reactions, from mild skin irritation to a severe or even fatal response, although few people do die as a result of plant poisonings. Current medical treatment is highly successful as long as help is found quickly.
There is no simple way to identify poisonous plants. Some plants are entirely poisonous (or toxic), while other plants concentrate their poison in certain places, such as leaves or flowers. Some plants are toxic to animals but not to people. Small quantities of some plant toxins can have a severe effect, while others only irritate if eaten in very large quantities.
To avoid stings:
If you are stung by a bee, try not to squeeze the venom bag at the outer end as you remove the sting. (A wasp does not leave its sting behind.)
For bee and wasp stings:
Some spiders found in New Zealand gardens are poisonous.
If you are bitten and suspect the spider may have been poisonous, call the National Poisons Centre – phone 0800 POISON (0800 764 766); this is a 24-hour service.
For more information, see Spiders in New Zealand, code HE1424.
While gardening can be a quiet and peaceful time, the equipment used in some gardening activities can damage hearing and cause other injuries. If used incorrectly or poorly maintained, lawnmowers, chainsaws, scrub cutters, trimmers, leaf shredders and wood chippers can all cause physical injury.
For more information, see Noise around the Home, code HE1122.
Garden fires and incinerators can smoulder for long periods, giving off thick, smelly, unpleasant smoke. Plastics and treated timbers included in the fire can produce toxic fumes.
Falls and sprains are common garden injuries. To help prevent these, wear non-slip footwear and keep paths free of moss, algae and fallen leaves.
Regular walking or swimming will usually keep you agile and fit enough to tackle most gardening jobs with little risk of injury or strain. Gardening activities alone can keep you fairly fit, but if you build up slowly to the bigger gardening tasks, you won’t have so many aches and pains at the end of the day.
Many gardening activities require lifting, kneeling or bending. To protect your back when you are working in the garden:
Most garden centres stock a range of useful gadgets (eg, kneelers, long-handled tools) that make gardening easier for all ages and reduce the chance of injury.
Melanoma is an increasing risk for New Zealanders who spend time in the sun. The critical period is from September to April between 10 am and 4 pm.
Gardening is a relaxing, healthy and creative activity that also reflects our concern for the environment. Your common sense and these simple steps will help you to enjoy its pleasures into the future.
Information on poisonous plants can be located on the following websites. They identify varieties and the parts of plants that pose risk.
If poisoning is suspected, call the National Poisons Centre – phone 0800 POISON (0800 764 7660); this is a 24-hour service, and seek medical attention.