Safety in the Garden
Safety in the garden is something we cannot take seriously enough. Each year many thousands of children (and adults!) are treated in hospital due to accidents in the home and garden. While we all realise that accidents do happen, the majority can be prevented by following some basic garden safety rules. Obviously the dangers change as the children grow, with the most vulnerable time generally being between the ages of 2 and 5 - when children are naturally curious and don't have much sense of danger or consequences.
If our aim is to provide an enjoyable and healthy experience for our children, then safety in the garden is paramount.
Most of these garden safety tips are common sense, but it cannot hurt to remind ourselves of them.
The absolute most basic garden safety rule is:
NEVER LEAVE A YOUNG CHILD UNSUPERVISED IN THE GARDEN !
Fencing, Paths and DrivesAlways ensure your garden is securely fenced in. Where a drive or path leads into the garden, consider fitting a gate with a child-proof lock. Check any paths for uneven stones and keep them clear of debris and moss, which can cause trips and falls. If you have steps in the garden or steep slopes, again consider fencing these parts off, fitting gates and rails, especially for younger children.
Greenhouses, Windows and ShedsIf you have a greenhouse in the garden try to ensure it has safety glass fitted. Alternatively, fit plastic film to the outside of the glass, install a small picket fence to section the greenhouse from the 'play area' in the garden, or put up a secure trellis or panel to avoid balls or other flying objects from hitting it.
Most houses have had their old single pane window replaced by double glazing, which is less easy to break, but the same may not apply to shed or summerhouse windows or doors. Consider safety glass, plastic film or somehow segregating the play area from building which have glass.
A young child can drown in only a couple of inches of water, so the golden rule is NEVER to leave a young child unsupervised near water, even a paddling pool. If you have a pond and young children, consider either fencing it off, covering it with special meshing, or even draining it and converting it into a sandpit or flower border instead.
Yes, children love water features, but there are safer options for younger children than a pond. Always empty paddling pools immediately after use.
Machinery and Tools
Keep all electrical tools or garden machinery (eg lawnmowers, strimmers, hedge trimmers, etc) out of reach of children and don't use them while the child is with you in the garden. Always remove them and lock them away safely immediately after use. Keep any sharp or heavy gardening tools out of reach of children too - stepping on a rake might look funny in a comedy but not in real life!
While children will benefit from using 'proper' gardening tools as from a reasonable age, use common sense in which to allow them and always show them how to use them safely, then supervise them. Keep gardening tools in good condition (eg check for splinters in handles, rust and loose heads) and lock them away safely after use. Don't allow young children to use tools designed for adults.
Play EquipmentEnsure all play equipment (eg swings, slides, play houses, etc) conforms to BSI standards, and that it is suitable for the age of the child it is intended for.
Regularly check it for wear and tear, check bolts holding the structure together are still tight, varnish or paint has not peeled off to expose rust or splinters, check ropes and swings for wear and tear, etc. Ensure play equipment such as swings are securely fastened down, and the swings themselves are appropriate for the child's age (eg harness swing for toddlers). Teach the children to await their turn well away from the swing itself. Provide a base which is soft, either grass, chipped bark or play matting - never stone or concrete.
Pets and ParasitesIf you keep dogs or cats, remove any dropping and faeces as soon as possible, wearing gloves or using a pooper-scooper and dispose of it. Apart from being unpleasant to land in when playing football or catch, the faeces can contain parasites which could cause serious infection and illness in a child. Toxoplasmosis, which is passed on through cat faeces can cause birth defects in unborn children, so try to avoid or take great care removing dropping from the garden if pregnant yourself.
Keep sandpits covered when not in use - dogs and cats see them as the ideal loo! And finally, always follow any gardening activity with a good scrub of the hands, including under the nails, to try to avoid any infection. Check tetanus vaccinations are up to date.
Chemicals and Weed killersKeep all chemicals used in the garden securely locked away in the garage or the shed and preferably on a shelf well above the child's height. Weed killer can kill more than just weeds.
Don't pour chemicals into containers which resemble something drinkable, eg coca-cola bottles, and always keep them well labeled. Only use when the children are not in the garden.
Fires and BarbequesKeep these well away from children and never leave them unsupervised. Ensure they are completely out and cold before leaving them. Also keep fires of any kind well away from wooden structures, eg sheds or fencing, and ensure they are not too close to trees or bushes which may catch light. Supervise children at all times around fires.
Plants and berries
There are a number of poisonous plants , berries and flowers and it is best, especially with younger children, to ensure there are none of the really dangerous ones (eg. laburnum tree) in your garden. But to be on the safe side, teach young children not to eat any berries, leaves or flowers - and don't set a bad example by picking and eating produce straight from the garden yourself.
As children grow older you can teach them about which plants are poisonous and which are safe to eat. Some plants, such as nettles, can sting, or cause small discomfort, and while we may wish to prevent any hurt from coming to our child, I think most of us realised by personal experience at some point in our childhood that nettles do sting and roses do have thorns!
Protection from Sun and Insect BitesAn obvious one for both yourself and your children: remember sunscreen blocker and hats for sunny days, and even on cloudy days during the summer. Try to place play equipment such as sandpits or paddling pools where they will be shaded during the mid-day and afternoon sun. Avoid sticky sweet drinks in the garden, ice lollies or jam sandwiches, etc, as these attract wasps and bees, and if you have a problem with biting or stinging insects, consider using an insect repellant stick on exposed skin, especially the face.
And finally, avoid dumping old kitchen appliances outside, eg fridges, ovens or freezers, which children could get trapped in, and try to keep old junk out of the play area (eg old tin cans or building rubble).
So having gone through all that to ensure the safety in the garden for our children, we can hopefully now all sit back or join in and have fun!
Parenting Toddlers offers valuable tips and advice on toddler safety inside and outside the home, together with information and suggestions on just about every aspect of parenting toddlers.
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