Gardeners: how to do a risk assessment

Safety and insurance

4 May 2016

Gardening might not immediately seem like the most dangerous pastime, but green-fingered professionals still need to consider the risks associated with their work.

From using power tools to being out working in the sun for too long, there are potential hazards gardeners should take into account – and the best way to tackle this is through a comprehensive risk assessment.

What is a risk assessment?

Conducting a risk assessment involves working out how your business operations could, in theory, hurt somebody – whether that’s you, an employee or a member of the public – and then documenting the measures you plan to take to guard against any hazards.

If you have four employees or fewer, you only need to take the appropriate precautions rather than committing anything to paper. However, if you employ five staff or more full time, then the output of your risk assessment exercise should be a written health and safety policy that you can use to train your staff and prevent accidents. This is not only important to protect your team, your customers and their property, but also to ensure you're complying with your legal responsibilities as an employer.

It may help to split your risk assessment into hazards and risks. The former (hazards) is about identifying objects with the potential to cause harm, such as tools, ladders or chemicals, while the latter (risks) is about how likely things are to go wrong, and how serious the implications might be if they do.

Below are some basic things to consider including in your risk assessment.

Hazards: power tools

Aside from slips and trips, power tools represent a gardener’s most obvious risk. Electric or petrol-powered equipment will typically cut, shred or chop, so it goes without saying that tools should be always be used in accordance with manufacturer instructions and guidance.

Look out for CE certification, which confirms that a tool meets European safety standards. You should also make sure there are clear operating instructions, and that anyone who uses the tool is familiar with them. Staff may also need to wear safety equipment – if using a strimmer, for example, then goggles will be essential.

It’s also vital that equipment is properly maintained. Fuel-powered lawnmowers, for instance, should be stored in the correct environment, while tools with electric motors should be checked regularly. If you hire equipment rather than owning tools outright, then maintenance and safety checks should be managed by your provider.

Risks: long-term and short-term

Gardening hazards aren’t limited to potential accidents. If you regularly use a hedge trimmer, you may be more likely to develop Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS); sometimes known as 'vibration white finger'. Although the condition can cause damage to muscles, joints and nerves, it's preventable by limiting daily exposure to vibrating tools.

Carrying and lifting, meanwhile, present both long and short-term risks. If you bend from your back instead of your knees, or twist while transporting something heavy, you risk injuring your back or joints – so it's important to educate staff on proper lifting techniques.

Lastly, professional gardeners tend to work longer hours in summer, which means increased exposure to potentially harmful sunlight – so don't forget to include advice in your health and safety policy about keeping skin covered where possible and applying high-factor sunscreen to prevent burns.

For more information about protecting your gardening business from accidents and slip-ups, find out more about public liability insurance.