Gardening is a great pastime – it's relaxing and most of the time it's a healthy pursuit. But it can be hazardous, and it's not always the things you can see that pose a potential danger.
Tetanus has long been the hidden enemy in the soil. It affects fewer than 10 people a year, but can be fatal.
Tetanus, also called lockjaw, is caused by the action of tetanus toxin released by a spore-forming bacillus that lives in the soil. It can be introduced to the bloodstream through the smallest of scratches.
Initial symptoms of tetanus include weakness, stiffness or cramps and difficulty chewing or swallowing food. As the disease progresses, you can expect muscular rigidity and very painful contraction spasms.
But the good news is you can prevent this disease by vaccination. But it may not be enough to rely on the vaccination course you had as a child.
In the meantime, keep cuts and scratches covered when you're working in the garden and make sure you wash and clean any injury straight away. Wearing gloves when gardening is also recommended.
The black tunnel web spider is listed by the Ministry of Health as one to avoid in the garden, thanks to its nasty bite.
2. PESTICIDES AND FUNGICIDES
Other potential hazards involve the use of chemical and non-chemical pesticides. These can be hazardous if used, stored or disposed of incorrectly. Chemicals should be stored in their original containers, preferably with a child-proof cap, and well out of reach of children.
There is also a possible fire hazard. The ministry also says oxidising agents, such as nitrate fertilisers and chlorine-based swimming pool chemicals, must be kept separate from flammable materials, such as methylated spirits and kerosene, and away from certain fungicides (EDBC) which, when wet, will generate heat.
3 POISONOUS PLANTS
There are plenty of growing hazards in the garden as well. Plants can cause a variety or reactions, ranging from mild skin irritations to a severe or even fatal response, although few people die from plant poisoning.
The Ministry of Health says there is no simple way to identify poisonous plants. Some plants are entirely poisonous, 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.
So it is best to discourage children from playing with leaves, berries, bulbs and flowers, and bulbs should also be stored out of reach of children.
4. INSECT STINGS AND BITES
Avoidance is your best bet when it comes to insect stings and bites. Bees and wasps are attracted to strong scents, so avoid wearing any form of fragrance of after shave when you are working outdoors.
And if you do get a bee sting, try not to squeeze the bag of venom as you remove the sting.
And then there are the spiders. The black garden tunnel-web spider is the worst culprit. Disturbing this chap can result in a painful bite and localised swelling.
It's a good idea to wear gloves when working around wood piles and retaining walls, where you may see the spider's thick, white, sheet-like webs.
The poisonous katipo and red-backed spiders are very rare and you are unlikely to find one of these in the garden.
6. GARDEN EQUIPMENT
It seems we can be our own worst enemy. Using tools and machinery in the garden creates a lot of potential for accident and injury. This can include the obvious cuts to hands and feet, but also damage to hearing through noisy machinery.
Using protective clothing when using machinery, and good maintenance of tools and machines will reduce risk. It also helps to ensure there are no loose stones in areas where you are using mowers, weed-eaters and trimmers.
7. LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
It may seem obvious, but gardening invariably means exposure to harmful UV rays, so investing in a good sunscreen is a must. A decent hat and plenty of liquid will also help avoid sunstroke if you are spending long hours outdoors.
And don't forget the potential for back injury when lifting heavy items, including removing that bag of potting mix from the boot of the car.
But despite all the hazards, don't be scared off gardening – it's the good life and incredibly rewarding.