Backyard Safety for Children
Table of Contents
Being able to play outside is a wonderful opportunity for kids. There’s just something about fresh air, exercise, and fun, after all. However, backyards can also be full of potentially dangerous things that could hurt your children. It’s up to parents to ensure that their backyards are safe for their kids. This guide to backyard safety for children will help ensure your own yard is a place where your children can be safe, happy, and healthy.
Who is at risk?
Accidents happen all the time, regardless of how well you may keep an eye on kids as they play. Anyone can end up accidentally hurting themselves when they’re out in the open, as there are plenty of hazards in even the most well-manicured backyard; adults aren’t immune to injuries while enjoying their backyard any more than children are. At the same time, research has shown that younger people tend to suffer more injuries than older folks when playing outside. This comes as no surprise, as kids tend to be more adventurous and might not always stop to think about potential dangers during play.
Sadly, this translates into a proportionally higher number of trips to the emergency room for the younger generations when compared to older people enjoying outdoor recreation. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than half of the serious outdoor injuries that Americans suffered in a single year happened to people between the ages of 10 and 24. These weren’t insignificant numbers, either - the total number of serious injuries that necessitated a trip to the ER in a given year was found to be more than 200,000 - and injuries to younger people made up 51.5 percent of that number. That’s more than 100,000 injuries, clearly showing that the youngest among us are certainly the most at risk when it comes to suffering from accidents and injuries while playing outside.
Backyard Hazards and Risk Management
Backyard hazards come in all shapes and forms. There are myriad ways that someone can get hurt in the backyard, but here are some of the most common.
Hazard 1: Plants
- Most backyards are more than just grass. Trees, shrubs, and other types of plants are also often present, and these can represent dangers to children. Many plants that are often used decoratively, such as azaleas and hydrangeas, are inedible and even poisonous if consumed, and other plants can even injure children simply from being handled, such as thorny roses or poison ivy.
Thankfully, protecting your children from becoming sick or injured by the plants in your backyard is certainly possible. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the first step is to know what types of plants are growing around your home, both those that you planted purposefully and those that are naturally present. This makes it easier to not just educate your kids as to which plants are not safe to eat but also to identify them in the case of an emergency. Finally, removal or relocation of overtly hostile plants, such as those with thorns or those that cause allergic reactions when handled, is the final step in keeping your kids safer in the backyard.
- Hazard 2: Pools
- Having a backyard pool is a wonderful way to cool off in the summer months, but pools represent a number of inherent dangers. First and foremost is the risk of drowning, something that can happen to anyone. However, younger children between the ages of 1 and 4 drown in swimming pools more than anywhere else, according to research from the CDC. In addition to drowning, other dangers include injuries related to slipping, tripping, and falling on wet, slick surfaces near a pool.
- The best way to avoid pool-related injuries is, of course, to not have one in the first place. That being said, there are plenty of ways to make the poolside safer for kids. The first is ensuring that you have a sturdy fence around your pool that prevents kids from getting too close while playing in the backyard. Another way to keep pool injuries at bay is to always ensure kids playing in a pool are under close supervision at all times and that the ground or deck surrounding a pool is free from obstacles and debris.
- Hazard 3: Gardening Tools
- It takes a lot to keep a backyard looking good. Mowing the lawn, trimming hedges, raking leaves, and other activities might keep your yard in excellent shape, but the tools used to accomplish this can often be dangerous for kids to be around. Anything with sharp blades, like a lawnmower, a chainsaw, pruning shears, or even a leaf rake, can hurt kids if they decide to play with them or otherwise come across them while enjoying the backyard.
- For the most part, keeping your gardening tools in a safe and secure location is often enough to prevent children from being injured by them. Always put away gardening tools when you’re done with them and ensure that any storage sheds on your property have sturdy locks to keep curious kids out or that access to your tools is otherwise tightly controlled.
- Hazard 4: Lawn Sprinklers
- Kids love playing in sprinklers on a hot day. You wouldn’t think that your average pop-up lawn sprinkler represents much of a danger to kids playing in your backyard, and for the most part, you would be correct. However, sprinkler heads that sit proud of the level of the ground but still low enough to be virtually invisible in your grass represent tripping hazards. Oscillating sprinklers that aren’t part of an underground system, such as those that can be attached to a garden hose, are also trip hazards when not in use.
- Make sure the components of your in-ground sprinkler system are installed properly so that they are fully recessed when not in use, as this helps reduce the chance they’ll be tripped over. Also, keep your lawn cut regularly to prevent these sprinkler heads from being hidden by tall grass. Finally, putting away an above-ground oscillating sprinkler and coiling up its attached garden hose will keep your yard clearer and also help reduce trips and falls.
- Hazard 5: Children’s Play Equipment
- No child’s backyard is complete without play equipment. Swing sets and other types of equipment might provide hours of fun, but they’re also potentially dangerous if not maintained correctly, or assembled incorrectly. Kids can also injure themselves using play equipment inappropriately, such as jumping off swings or from the top of slides.
- Checking your kids’ play equipment regularly to ensure it’s in good shape is one of the most important ways to prevent injuries to children using them. An example would be to make sure swing sets are staked to the ground to prevent them from shifting during use. Also, close supervision will ensure that younger kids aren’t using play equipment in dangerous ways that could lead to injury.
- Hazard 6: Pesticides
- Using pesticides might help keep your backyard from getting invaded by plants and animals you don’t want there, but the same chemicals these pesticides used to keep your yard secure from these invaders can also harm children playing in your yard as well. This can happen either directly due to children discovering unattended bottles of pesticide and playing with them or indirectly from exposure to areas of your backyard that have been treated with certain pesticides.
- The best way to prevent children from becoming sick or injured from exposure to pesticides is to not use them at all. However, if that’s impossible, there are a number of pesticides that are non-toxic to humans that you can use instead of traditional ones. Either way, always keep pesticides under lock and key whenever not in use - never leave bottles of pesticide unattended or unsecured.
- Hazard 7: Exposure
- We think of backyards as tame environments, but these outdoor areas still represent dangers when it comes to exposure to the elements. Kids playing outside for extended periods of time on summer days can lead to sunburn, dehydration, and heat exhaustion. Likewise, playing outside for long periods in cold and wet conditions during the winter could lead to mild or even moderate cases of hypothermia.
- Always ensure your children have dressed appropriately for the weather and climate before venturing outside. This includes sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat during the summer months and dressing in warm layers during the winter. Ensure that kids take breaks often from strenuous play and that they stay hydrated as well.
First Aid and Treatment
Understanding the most common types of hazards that kids can face in the backyard is just the first step in yard safety. You also need to ensure you have the knowledge and tools necessary to help treat accidents and injuries when they occur. This means having access to a robust first aid kit that includes more than just a box of band-aids; it’s a good idea to have a fully-fledged kit that includes things like cotton swabs, gauze, surgical tape, antiseptic wipes, safety pins, disposable gloves, and other necessities.
First aid treatment is more than just having the right tools on hand, however. You also need to know what to do in a situation where a child may have gotten hurt. Educating yourself by taking a child-centric first aid treatment course will provide you with the requisite knowledge you’ll need in a number of situations, up to and including how and when to administer CPR to a child who needs it. This is perhaps the most important step you can take as a parent, as it could easily help save the life of your child or one of their friends.
Safety Plan and Prevention
An ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure, and that’s why so much effort has been spent in identifying and eliminating backyard hazards in the first place. However, it’s also important to have an established safety plan in place in the event that something does go wrong. There are a number of aspects to a good safety plan, including the following:
- Educate: Make sure that everyone in a household knows what the safety plan is for a given situation and what to do if there is a serious accident that needs addressing.
- Organize: Take steps to keep all your safety tools and equipment organized and easily accessible in an emergency. Also, check your first aid supplies regularly to ensure that you’re fully stocked at all times.
- Know Your Help Lines: You shouldn’t have to go it alone in the event of an accident or emergency. Know the following phone numbers, keep them visible in a central place (such as in the kitchen on the refrigerator door), and make sure all the adults and the children in your home know to call them in the event of an emergency. These numbers should include:
- Your local police department or closest precinct
- Your local fire department
- Poison helplines
- Animal control
- Trauma centers
- Your family doctor
- Your closest local hospital
- The numbers of friends, relatives, or neighbors that are your emergency contacts
Backyard Safety Checklist for Parents
Ready to get your backyard into shape and protect your kids while they play? Here’s a great checklist you can use to help keep children safe while they’re enjoying themselves.
- Center for Disease Control. (2008). CDC Online Newsroom - Press Release - New CDC Study First To Present National Outdoor Recreational Injury Estimates. CDChttps://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2008/r080610.htm
- Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. (2019). Know the Plants in Your Garden — For Your Child’s Safety. https://www.chop.edu/news/health-tip/know-plants-your-garden-your-child-s-safety
- Center for Disease Control. (n.d.). Drowning Facts | Drowning Prevention. Retrieved November 3, 2021, fromhttps://www.cdc.gov/drowning/facts/index.html