Should we ban the use of glass on allotments in case somebody cuts themselves? Is it just a sensible precaution or health and safety, nanny-state culture gone mad?
Strangely that question has come up twice recently. One email complaining about a proposal to ban greenhouses and coldframes on her allotments was followed by another from a chair of an allotment committee who believed they should ban the use of horticultural glass on their allotments. His fear was that someone would build a greenhouse on the plot and then leave it behind on the site so the new plotholder would injure themselves on broken glass.
Now I admit my first reaction was exasperation. Banning horticultural glass from allotments is health and safety gone mad! Or health and safety being used to justify a poorly thought out decision made by a power crazed bureaucrat who should get a proper job and stop bothering the rest of us.
I didn’t say that in my reply, I try to be friendly and polite. But that was how I felt and still feel if the truth be known. But, my gut feelings aside, I thought it was worth trying to apply some thought to the matter and actually quantify the risks. Lets examine some cases.
Case 1 – Plotholder leaves a mess behind.
First of all, what if someone takes on an allotment, builds a greenhouse and it gets damaged or destroyed in a storm leaving broken glass around? They then depart leaving a mess for the new plotholder who follows on.
We’ve most of us seen people take on a plot and then leave it in a mess when they depart. The chap who thought growing in tyres was a good idea and left them behind when he left. Or a plot left with a makeshift shed half collapsed. Or they lost control of the plot and when they finally gave up it was covered in weeds spreading their seeds over the whole site.
Those are just facts of life. I’m not saying it’s right but it happens and whoever takes on a new plot accepts they’re going to have to put some effort into getting it back in order. Broken glass is dangerous – actually all glass is dangerous to some extent – and should be treated with respect.
It’s common sense to wear decent gloves and exercise caution when handling glass. It does present a risk but it is a risk that can be controlled and protected against without special training. How far should we go to protect people from their own stupidity? If you want to start messing with broken glass without gloves then you are going to get a cut.
Case 2 – Danger to other people
The next risk to consider is third parties, other people on the site. Well, it’s pretty obvious that glass on my plot will not harm anyone on another plot or connecting paths etc. If someone comes onto my plot and falls onto a coldframe then tough, they shouldn’t have been on my plot in the first case.
Blaming the plotholder is like blaming the victim. They’ve had someone trespass on the plot, cause them loss and damage and it’s not their fault.
Case 3 – Children
There is another case to consider – children. I’m all in favour of family use of allotments and that includes the little ones. But an allotment site is not a playground. If the children are allowed to run wild then it’s the parents who are to blame.
There are many dangers in the world and it is the parent’s job to protect children from them. You hold their hand when walking by a busy road and wouldn’t dream of letting them play dodge the traffic. So respect the other plotholders and protect your children from the risks on their plots.
Just to be clear, I would always use tempered ‘safety’ glass in my greenhouses at home to protect my grandson. If he runs into the glass it reduces his risk of injury. But that is me protecting a child I have responsibility for. If we visit your garden, then he’s not allowed to run around near your greenhouse – or trample your prize veg!
Case 4 – Injury to the plotholder
As for the risk to plotholder from their own greenhouse or coldframe, well that is up to them. If we are to protect people from themselves then there’s an awful long list of things we’d have to ban in the garden.
Quantifying the Risk of Injury from Glass on Allotments
People are very bad at judging risk. For example, we worry about flying when the real risk is in driving to the airport. So it makes sense to look at the statistics.
RoSPA say that about 300,000 people are hurt in their gardens each year seriously enough to go to hospital – 110,000 of them are children. Around 87,000 are injured actively gardening or carrying out DIY jobs in the garden. That’s 1 person in 200 roughly which seems quite high but those are the figures.
Top gardening injuries
RoSPA also have a list of the top gardening injuries:
1. Lawn mowers (6,500 accidents in the UK each year)
2. Flower pots (5,300)
3. Secateurs and pruners (4,400)
4. Spades (3,600)
5. Electric hedge trimmers (3,100)
6. Plant tubs and troughs (2,800)
7. Shears (2,100)
8. Garden forks (2,000)
9. Hoses and sprinklers (1,900)
10. Garden canes and sticks (1,800).
Since accidents involving greenhouse glass don’t appear in the list I contacted RoSPA and asked what information they could give me. Now the government has stopped funding the collection of some detailed accident statistics but they do have estimates of injuries due to greenhouse glass for 2000, 2001 and 2002 which average out to 1,937 accidents a year.
So it’s fair to say that the actual risk of injury from greenhouse glass is slightly below that of a garden fork. Yes, glass presents a risk and banning it from allotments will reduce accidents. But if we’re going to be really safe on our plots, we need to ban spades, forks, shears and secateurs. And pots. And hosepipes. And canes.
That would be health and safety gone mad. I doubt you could actually grow anything. Having taken what I hope is a fairly objective look at the risks, I’m still of the opinion that banning the use of horticultural glass on allotments is not justifiable on health and safety grounds.
I’d love to hear what you think about this – just pop a comment down below and say.