Health & safety in the garden

Information sheet

When working with young people outside, or in contact with plants and soils, there are a few basic health and safety issues to bear in mind.

  • School term: All year round
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s):


Gardens can provide young people with an amazing opportunity to develop a huge number of skills and are great for supporting physical and mental wellbeing. However, it is vital to ensure that anyone working out in the garden, no matter what age, understands how to work safely in the garden and how to look out for hazards and risks. 

This resource outlines some of the key hazards to look out for when planning your gardening activities. In the green box you'll also find a guide to help you complete a risk assessment.

Hazards to look out for:

Here are some things to consider when writing a risk assessment or planning any gardening activities:

Soil & land:

Before commencing work, particularly on a new site, you could seek LEA (Local Education Authority) or environmental health advice to ensure the land is safe to work on and not contaminated. Even if your site is safe to use, it is worth remembering that soil contains many millions of bacteria and other micro-organisms. Most are harmless but some are potentially very dangerous. Try not to let children have contact with soil if they have a cut; ensure all children have an up-to-date tetanus inoculation; be vigilant that children are not sucking their fingers, and insist on good hand-washing and glove wearing. 

Plants:

Some plants can cause allergic reactions for some individuals e.g. grasses can cause hayfever, rue can cause blisters. Other plants have poisonous parts if eaten such as laburnum seeds, potato fruits and fungi, and many common bulbs can be toxic if eaten such as daffodils.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't allow children to plant them but be sure to educated young people on the importance of staying safe and washing hands. You can find out about which plants could be harmful here

Insects:

At certain times of the year, there will be a profusion of different insects e.g. bees in spring and summer; wasps in summer and autumn; mosquitoes and midges in summer; and red ants in spring, summer and autumn.

Teach children to recognise these if they don’t already know them. You can use our pollinating insects spotter guide to help your children identify the difference between these insects and also help them to understand why these insects are helpful in the garden, even if we'd prefer to keep away from them!

Other animals and wildlife:

Encourage young people to be mindful of other creatures living in the garden. They aren't always harmful such as hedgehogs, frogs or birds, but it is good practice to garden safely and be careful not to disturb or injure them. 

Cat, dog and fox faeces can also carry an extremely harmful micro-organism, Toxocara canis, which can cause blindness. Do not garden with children on areas likely to be visited by these animals or ensure you have checked the site beforehand. If children come across any faeces, make sure they know to notify an adult.

Garden chemicals:

Many people garden with chemicals, which are potentially harmful both to people and to wildlife. As a matter of principle, it is the best policy to not allow any chemicals into the school garden. If you do have chemicals around, such as plant feed, ensure they cannot be easily reached by very young people and that older students know how to use them safely.

Tools:

Tools can be dangerous and are often designed to be used by adults. Do not take anything for granted and remember that most children will need to be instructed on how to carry and handle tools. Have a look at our guide to help you teach pupils how to use tools safely.

Slippery ground and wet weather:

Gardens will often be slippery and grass, wet soil, paths, decking etc. can all provide a hazard if children are not careful. Point this out regularly as a risk, or put signage in place. Get your children to make signs for these areas using the fun activity 'Make signs & labels'. Also ensure pupils always wear the right footwear for the weather and activity.

Carrying out a risk assessment

This guidance is designed to help you to carry out your own risk assessment ahead of any gardening activity.

The purpose of this guidance is to draw attention to hazards commonly encountered in the garden. However, it's important to note that all sites are different so be sure to tailor this to your own setting.

Update: we have now added considerations for gardening during the pandemic to the risk assessment document.

Download our risk assessment document here.

We've won awards!

Winner of the Drum Marketing Awards 2017
Winner of the ERA 2017 awards
Winner of the Third Sector 2017 awards