Gardening with hand tools


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Guideline review date: 28 October 2021

​This guideline is provided to support schools in implementing the managing risks in school curriculum activities procedure.

The CARA planner must be used for the specific school context in conjunction with this guideline considering additional risks, hazards and controls and including environmental, facility, equipment and student considerations.​

For activities beyond the scope of this guideline, complete a CARA record using the CARA generic template.

Activity scope

This guideline relates to student participation in gardening with hand tools as an activity to support curriculum delivery. Gardening with hand tools includes the use of gardening tools such as forks, spades, shears, saws and other aids for relatively simple gardening activities​.

Note: This CARA guideline does not include the use of electrical gardening or motorised gardening equipment.

Depending on the scope of this activity, other risk assessments may be required when planning. Curriculum activities encompassing more than one CARA guideline (e.g. science investigation, experiments and activities​) must comply with the requirements of all CARA guidelines appropriate to the activity.​

For activities conducted at a non-Department of Education venue, and/or when engaging external expertise, request written risk assessment advice and attach it to this CARA record.​

For activities conducted off-site, schools must comply with the ​ school excursions procedure.

Low ​​​​risk
Use of small, simple-operation hand tools (e.g. hand fork or hand trowel).​
Medium risk
Use of larger hand tools (e.g. spades, rakes).
High risk
Use of hand tools, both small and large, with sharp cutting edges or points (e.g. budding knives, secateurs, pruning saws, shears, mattocks, digging forks and hoes).

Activity requirements

If any requirement cannot be met, the activity must not occur.​

If any other safety recommendation cannot be met, modify the activity (or elements of it) and/or identify and use the hierarchy of controls to implement alternative control measures to meet or exceed the minimum safety standard.

Competition rules and procedures with additional or more stringent safety requirements must take precedence.​

Reference to children and young workers​ code of practice 2006 to determine student suitability to undertake relevant work activities and use hand tools is required when planning this activity.

Reference to Department of Agriculture and Fisheries​ for restricted areas (e.g fire ant maps) is required when planning this activity.

Follow the standard operating procedures (SOP) for equipment and machinery resources​ and manufacturer instructions.

Assess and manage risks associated with working at heights​.


Parent consent (DOCX, 306KB) is required for all activities conducted off-site and strongly recommended for high risk activities conducted on-site.


Principals make final supervision decisions for the activity. Sufficient adult supervision must be provided to manage the activity safely (including emergency situations).

For activities with students with a medical condition or disability that may impact on safety during the activity, consultation with parents is required prior to allocating supervision to determine the impact of students’ disability on safety during the activity.

The number of adult supervisors required to fulfil emergency and supervision roles must consider the nature of the activity, students' ages, abilities and specialised learning, access and/or health needs.

Before the activity, all adult supervisors:

  • must be familiar with the contents of the CARA record
  • must assess weather conditions prior to undertaking the activity, inspecting the intended location in order to identify variable risks, hazards and potential dangers.

During the activity, all adult supervisors:

  • must be readily identifiable
  • must closely monitor students with health support needs
  • must comply with control measures from the CARA record and adapt as hazards arise
  • must suspend the activity if the conditions become unfavourable (e.g. poor visibility, extreme temperatures, thunderstorms).

Supervisor qualifications

Principals make final decisions in determining supervisor capability (competence, relevance and currency) and are responsible for encouraging and enabling school-based activity supervisors to raise their qualifications to improve safety standards.

All adult supervisors must comply with the working with children authority—Blue Cards procedure and be able to identify, and respond to, risks or hazards that may emerge during the activity.

At least one adult supervisor is required to be:

  • a registered teacher with competence (knowledge and skills) in gardening and the use of gardening hand tools and the potential hazards; or
  • an adult supervisor, working under the direct supervision of a registered teacher, with competence (knowledge and skills) in gardening and the use of gardening hand tools and the potential hazards.

Facilities and equipment

The qualified adult supervisor of the activity, in consultation with the principal, determines the requirements for facilities and equipment appropriate to the local context.

Location must be suitable for the activity being undertaken, including sufficient space, adequate lighting and ventilation to ensure safe participation and that safety rules and procedures can be followed. Undertake a reconnaissance of new or infrequently used locations to ascertain suitability.

Consult chemicals in curriculum activities for support in assessing the risks of chemicals used with/by students in curriculum activities.

If a CARA record is required in OneSchool, a summary of chemicals (e.g. herbicide), plant, equipment and/or materials (e.g. potting mix) used in the activity must be provided by entering directly onto the CARA record in OneSchool or by attaching a summary. Sample templates are provided on chemicals in curriculum activities and plant, equipment and materials in curriculum activities.

Participants must wear personal protective equipment as relevant (e.g. appropriate enclosed footwear, safety glasses with glasses, gloves, appropriate face protection against airborne particles, e.g. spraying pesticides or fungicides, dust or organisms in compost or potting mix).

Equipment must be sized to match the ability and strength of students.

All equipment must be conform to Australian Standards, comply with the relevant codes of practice and standard operating procedures (SOP) and be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

A maintenance schedule (e.g. checking for damage, repairing, sharpening) must be established and enacted for all plant and equipment used in the workspace. Consult Equipment Maintenance Records (EMR) documents.

A retirement schedule must be developed to replace plant and equipment by manufacturers' nominated expiry date or when significant wear causes a hazard.

A process for checking for damage for all equipment used in the activity must be established and employed.

If privately owned equipment is being used, principal approval and owner consent/insurance details must be obtained prior to the activity.

Common hazards and controls

Further to those listed, include any additional hazards and control measures considering the local context of the activity.

Environmental hazards Control measures

Animal bites/diseases
Stings, poisoning, infection

Allergen and disease risks associated with working with dust, dry matter and airborne organisms, e.g. Q fever, must be controlled.

Adhere to established practices regarding the use of insect repellent, outlined in insect viruses and allergies.

Ensure the location is clear of obstacles and wildlife (e.g. snakes) that may pose hazards.

Environmental conditions
Weather, surfaces, surrounds

The school's sun safety strategy must be followed.

Follow the managing excessive heat in schools guidelines when participating in very hot or extreme heat conditions.

Manage allergen and disease risks associated with dust, compost and other soil enrichment products, dry matter and airborne organisms (e.g. Legionella), such as moistening the contents of potting mix bags to avoid creating dust.

Prevent hazards by ensuring appropriate control measures are in place for unfavourable weather conditions (e.g. dampen dust during high wind, control slipping hazards after rain).

Facilities and equipment hazards
Control measures

Faulty or dangerous equipment

Check equipment for damage before and during the activity (e.g. checking tool heads for splits or cracks and security of handle, checking handles for splits, cracks and splinters).

Equipment situated where it does not pose potential hazards.

Heights/ falling objects

Falling from height

Assess and manage risks associated with working at heights.

Exclusion zones clearly marked to prevent falling objects striking participants when working at heights.

Sharp implements or objects

Safety guidelines enforced when using sharp implements (e.g. keeping fingers out of the way, carrying sharp implements appropriately).

Student considerations Control measures


Students aware of the location of emergency and first-aid equipment.

Manual handling
Lifting equipment

Use correct manual handling processes when lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling or carrying.

Establish appropriate lifting equipment is used to lift heavy objects or materials.

Physical exertion
Exhaustion and fatigue

Continually monitor participants for signs of fatigue and exhaustion.

Establish rest breaks, considering the age and fitness level of students.

Student issues
Student numbers, special needs, high risk behaviours, medical conditions, separation from the group

Remove accessories (e.g. jewellery, lanyards) before participating.

Ensure fingernails and hair do not pose a hazard.

Safety zone established and maintained around the area where potentially hazardous activities are conducted (e.g. use of mattock).

Students supervised in a safe location when not actively receiving instruction.

Drink breaks to occur regularly. Make water available for individual participants between drink breaks.

Follow appropriate hand washing procedures after the activity.

In addition to the above for high risk activities:

Establish, induct and implement procedures for clean-up and storage of blades/cutting tools.


Have students wear easily identifiable clothing

Ensure staff can easily recognise those students with health support needs and are familiar with their needs. ​


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Last updated 13 July 2022