Diarmuid Gavin: The essential checks you need to make to stay safe in the gardenWe can't wait to get out there and get our hands dirty at the first blink of sun - but pause to make a few essential safety checks
The weather is warming nicely - we've had some very inviting (interspersed with a few freezing) days and many of us are venturing out into the garden to explore what's popping up or in bud.
We know the immense joys and health benefits that are gained from garden activity and engaging with our natural environment. But although they are beautiful and creative havens, it's good to be aware that gardens can also be hazardous places - especially for youngsters who, unsurprisingly, see a release into the great outdoors as a wonderful adventure.
I'm an optimist rather than a fatalist and I know that most situations in the garden are safe. But I'm aware of the devastation caused when there are problems. Many accidents do happen at home and in the garden, and will affect households throughout the land this spring, so here's a practical guide to keeping safe outdoors.
Cutting through the cable of a lawn- mower or hedge trimmer is the most common accident. This is very dangerous, as contact with live wires can cause severe electric shock or even electrocution. The safest way to minimise risk in the garden is to use a plug-in residual-current device (RCD) with all mains voltage electrical equipment like lawn mowers and hedge trimmers. The life-saving device disconnects the electricity automatically if there is a fault, such as someone cutting through a cable. So if you have an electric lawnmower or hedge trimmer, be sure to use one of these whenever you plug in. Never use a chainsaw unless you have undertaken a training course on how to do so safely -make sure to wear the proper protective equipment and never operate machinery like this on your own.
If you do a lot of gardening, invest in some protective gear. Wearing eye goggles while hedge trimming or lawn mowing will protect your eyes from tiny bits of flying twigs or leaves; heavy-duty garden gloves will save you from cuts, scratches and soil-borne diseases; steel-capped boots will preserve your toes from lawnmowers or mishaps with spades and forks.
If you use chemicals, make sure these are safely stored - on high shelves, out of sight and reach of children, preferably in locked sheds. Never pour chemicals into unlabelled empty drinks bottles or other containers: it's an easy way to cause accidental poisoning. When spraying, wear a protective mask and watch out for spray drift on breezy days.
The noise of machinery can blot out all other sounds so, if there are children in the garden when you are mowing the lawn for example, your ability to hear a shout or a cry is diminished. With water features such as ponds, remember the dangers that these pose for children - either your own or visiting kids: there has to be an adult present to supervise whenever children are near water.
Get help if you need to lift anything heavy and learn the best way to lift without damaging your back: don't bend over; squat instead with knees and hips bent and straighten your legs to lift. Don't lift above shoulder level and avoid twisting or turning your body while lifting. We gardeners are very prone to back problems so always take a gentle stretch between activities and try not to do the same activity for too long a period - take time out for regular cups of tea!
Now is a good time to check that pathways are in good condition. Do you need to fix some loose paving slabs or clear a mossy, slippy deck? Even hoses lying around can be a trip hazard. If you use bamboo canes to stake plants, get some plastic caps to top them with - this is a cheap and effective way to avoid nasty accidents if you trip on them.
You might have a neighbour who, for reasons of age or infirmity, is no longer able to manage certain jobs, so it could be a good time to get a rota going with other neighbours to give them a helping hand.
And as the weather improves, remember to protect yourself from the sun. Even on cloudy days, the sun's harmful rays can penetrate and damage your skin. The Australians had a great campaign - Slip! Slop! Slap! - slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat.
So, as we gear up for the busy gardening period, and hopefully good weather, mind yourself and those around you. Enjoy a safe, creative and productive spring in your garden!