Michigan State University

Horticulture & Gardening

Bonnie Appleton, an extension nursery specialist and associate professor, defines horticultural ergonomics as: "modifying or designing gardening sites and activities, as well as tools and equipment, to suit the gardener, rather than forcing the gardener to adapt to the design of the garden or tools."

When choosing a gardening tool consider these factors:

Size:

  • Tall people need rakes and shovels with longer handles, i.e. reaching the space between the shoulder and nose.
  • People with smaller hands need thinner handles and shorter pruning shears
  • Look for telescoping handles that can adjust to your height or the need to get to tall branches or into prickly shrubs
  • Left-handed people need to seek out appropriate or ambidextrous models

Weight:

  • find what's comfortable for you and easy to operate. Smaller heads, aluminum or plastic construction, and the like may work better for you.

Look for ergonomic adaptions, especially if you will be conducing the same work over and over:

  • Arm-cuffs
  • 80-90 degree angled heads
  • Gear mechanisms allow for more force application to cut with less exertion by the user.
  • Conforming to your body – especially the size and shape of your hand.

Common sense!

  • If you get tired easily or are hurting - stop! Consider doing the job in a different manner or with a different tool. Alternate tasks using different tools to alleviate overuse by a muscle group
  • Proper hand hold of the tool, i.e. a trowel is best held like a child holding a crayon in his fist. Reduce the feeling of awkwardness to prevent injury.
  • You can make your favorite tools more ergonomic by wrapping tape or putting pipe foam onto tool handles to make them larger and softer.
  • Take frequent rests from gardening activities, such as raking and pruning, which involve repetitive motions.
  • If sawing, stand inline with the blade to keep your wrist or forearm straight. Or, use an adjustable-angle blade to achieve a better cutting posture.
  • Hedge Clippers should have a rubber stopper between the handles to help absorb the shock of the blades closing together.
  • Sharpness: Keep tools sharp so less effort is needed to cut.
  • Buy quality tools that do the job, and take care of them after the day is done.

Compiled by Suzi Teghtmeyer

Citations:

Appleton, Bonnie. Minding Your Horticultural Health. http://www.learn2grow.com/inspirations/healthcorner/enablingtools/MindingYourHorticulturalHealth.aspx. Accessed October 17, 2012.

Berney, Julia. Design only half the battle. Australian Horticulture. Jan 2006, 104(1):52-54.

Carroll, Brigid. Ergonomic advice. Horticulture. July/Aug 2001, 98(6):17.

Hyman, Frank. Tool Report. Horticulture. Jan/Feb 2012, 109(1):66-76.

Mitchell, Tamara and Sally Longyear (ed.). Can you dig it? The Ergonomics of Gardening. http://www.working-well.org/articles/pdf/Gardening.pdf. Accessed October 17, 2012.