The warmer weather is coming, and you’ll soon be preparing to transform your backyard into a summer playground. To keep the kids safe, follow these childproofing guidelines to cut back on the hidden hazards in your backyard and to make your summer play zone a safe place to be.
- Carefully inspect your playground equipment. According to the National Program for Playground Safety over 200,000 children per year are injured on playgrounds. Since most of these injuries are a result of falls, be sure that you have a proper shock absorbing surface underneath your play set. 12 inches of sand, mulch or rubber matting will offer your kids the best protection. You’ll also want to be sure that your play set is properly anchored to the ground, that surfaces are smooth, that protruding bolts are repaired and that all “S” shaped hooks are fully closed. Check your slide for any sharp edges and be sure that there is a clear exit area for sliders.
- Think twice about trampolines. If the nearly 250,000 trampoline injuries reported each year (according to the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons) has not convinced you to steer clear of this backyard accessory, if you opt to purchase a trampoline for your kids, be sure it is a spring-less model that has a full safety enclosure. Since a majority of trampoline injuries occur from children colliding with other jumpers, it’s vitally important to continuously supervise your kids at play.
- Sandbox safety. If your sandbox is built directly on the ground, be sure to line it with landscape fabric to prevent weeds from growing up and to facilitate water drainage. You’ll also want to fill your sandbox with “sandbox sand.” Sold at home improvement stores, sandbox sand is smoother and cleaner than regular sand. You’ll also need to invest in a cover to keep pets and rodents (and their droppings!) out. Place a 5 gallon bucket upside down in your sandbox and properly secure a plastic tarp onto the sandbox. The bucket will prevent water from pooling on the top of the tarp which can be a safety issue for your kids and a breeding ground for bugs.
- Landscape Supplies and Equipment. Your kids are naturally curious and won’t hesitate to explore. Be sure all power equipment and lawn treatment products are stored and secured in a locked shed.
- Decks. Be sure to measure the space between the railing slots on your deck. If they are wide enough for your kids to trap a limb, utilize safety netting. You’ll also want to be sure a hard mounted gate is attached to the top and bottom of the stairs.
- Pools. Be sure your pool is properly barricaded. Install a fence that is at least 4 feet tall and be sure that there are no weak areas that your kids can squeeze through. Be sure the gate has a self-locking mechanism that your kids can’t open. You may also want to invest in a gate or pool alarm that will alert you if the gate has been opened or if someone falls into the pool. Remove steps and ladders when the pool isn’t in use (and keep step stools and ladders away from all fences). Never leave the cover halfway on your pool, as your child could swim under and become stuck. If your patio door leads directly to the pool, lock and alarm it. Inflatable pools should be drained, deflated and stored and secured when not in use.
- Check fences. Check your fence for loose hardware, splinters and missing slats. Be sure pickets are less than 5 inches apart and that there are no sharp edges for your kids to get caught on.
- Outdoor furniture. Be sure your outdoor seating is sturdy and safe. Secure garden swings properly to the ground and check to ensure cushions are securely fastened to seating.
- Koi Ponds. Fish ponds pose a special backyard hazard for children as their shallow depth can give parents, children and caregivers a false sense of security. Be sure pools of water of any depth are properly barricaded to prevent unauthorized access.
- Outdoor Outlets. Replace outdoor outlets with childproof outlets that your kids can’t open.
- BBQ’s and Grills. When not in use, store and secure grilling equipment. Propane tanks, matches, lighter fluid and sharp cooking utensils should all be inaccessible to your kids. When in use, never leave the cooking area unsupervised and be sure that the unit it cooled completely before storing away.
- Clothing. Require your kids to wear proper footwear and snug fit clothing when playing outdoors. Avoid articles of clothing with drawstrings or accessories that can easily become caught on play equipment.
- Establish Clear Boundaries and Rules. Having a list of backyard rules can help guide your kids in safe play. Establish any areas that are off limits, rules for riders on slides, trampolines and other play toys and safety guidelines for using play equipment.
While childproofing your backyard can help eliminate common safety hazards and create a safer environment for your children to play in, even the best safety measures do not substitute for parental supervision.