Using Horticultural Hand Tools Safely

  • Fluegel, Lance;
  • Rein, Bradley K.


  • Always buy quality tools to minimize breakage.
  • Select the right tool for the job.
  • Purchase tools that are comfortable in size and weight for the person(s) using them.
  • Inspect all tools carefully for dull blades, damaged handles, loose heads, etc. Replace or repair as needed.
  • Sharpen all cutting tools before using and frequently thereafter. A sharp tool is a safer tool.
  • Always wear safety glasses when sharpening tools with a power grinder. Never wear gloves for this operation, to avoid having a hand caught and pulled into the wheel.
  • Wear safety glasses and safety shoes when performing striking, shearing, or other forceful-type actions.
  • Wear sturdy gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants when working with dense plant materials. This is particularly important for thorny or spiny type plants such as cacti, mesquite, etc.

  • Stretch or warm up before performing heavy duties such as digging, chopping, etc., to avoid muscle pulls and strains.
  • Keep sharp points of tools away from the body.
  • Take periodic rest breaks especially when performing strenuous jobs such as digging, spading, or sawing.
  • Keep children, bystanders, and pets a safe distance from the work area.
  • When stopping or interrupting work you should place sharp, pointed or long-handled tools so they cannot be stepped on or tripped over.
  • When not using pointed or sharp edged tools, always place them with the points or edges down to prevent people stepping on them.


  • Select the right ladder for the job. (see Figure 1)
  • Check the ladder for structural defects. Repair or replace the ladder as necessary.
  • Avoid metal ladders near power lines.
  • Always face the ladder and grasp the side rails with both hands.
  • Never carry tools when ascending or descending. Put them in a sack that can be strapped to the shoulder or raise and lower them with a bucket or rope.
  • Do not lean the ladder against insecure surfaces such as shrubbery, tree branches, etc.
  • Place the ladder at about a 75-degree angle with the ground. Set the foot of the ladder a distance from the object equal to one-fourth its total length.
  • Be sure the ladder is sitting on firm level ground.
  • While working on a ladder, stay below the top three rungs, unless equipped with a firm handhold or a safety belt.

Publication #: 8831-E

This document is apart of a series from the College of Agriculture, the University of Arizona, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Tucson, AZ 85719. Publication date: May 1989.

Lance Fluegel, Safety Coordinator, and Bradley Rein, Engineering Specialist, the College of Agriculture, University of Arizona, Tucson AZ 85719.

Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More