Legionnaires' Disease: Are you being safe in the garden?

It’s important when working in the garden that you’re taking care of yourself and those who are working with you. Using equipment correctly, wearing safety equipment such as gloves, and making sure to read the instructions for use on all products are precautions every gardener needs to take.

Working with soil, compost and potting mix is a regular for every gardener. While incidents of Legionnaires’ Disease are low, it’s very important that every gardener is taking simple precautions to keep safe.

What is Legionnaires’ Disease? 

Potting mix, compost and soil are filled with naturally occurring bacteria and organisms that are beneficial to the growth of plants but can cause harm to people if simple precautions aren’t taken.

Legionnaires’ Disease, or Legionellosis, is caused by common Legionella bacteria, which can be found in soil, compost and potting mix.

You can catch it by breathing in dust from soil that contains the bacteria. Once in the lungs, the bacteria multiply and cause either pneumonia (Legionnaires’ disease) or an illness without pneumonia called Pontiac fever. The infection is not contagious and cannot be caught from another person.

Legionnaires' disease can affect anyone, but it's more common in people aged over 50, with men being more susceptible than women. Smokers, heavy drinkers and people with a compromised immune system are at higher risk.

You can find out more about the symptoms and treatment of Legionnaires’ Disease on the Ministry of Health website.

How to prevent Legionnaires’ Disease

Keep yourself safe by making sure you take these simple precautions every time you are handling soil, potting mix and compost (growing mix).

When handling any growing mix product, always: 

  1. Wear a face mask and gloves. You’ll find suitable P2 masks at every Mitre 10 store
  2. Open growing mix products slowly and away from the face.
  3. Dampen growing mix before use to reduce dust.
  4. Water using a gentle spray or low-pressure hose.
  5. Make sure your working area (glasshouse, potting shed) is well ventilated.
  6. Store bags of growing mix out of direct sunlight.
  7. Wash hands thoroughly after handling.

You’ll also find these precautions outlined on all packaging for soil, composting and potting mix products to remind you of how to handle these products safely. 

You can find out more about working safely in the garden on the WorkSafe website.