A Guide to Safety in Your Backyard

Your backyard is a wonderful place to be. Ideally, it should be an extension of your indoor living area, giving your children and pets (or just the child inside you) a place to romp and expend energy.

If you’re not careful, however, your backyard can also, unfortunately, be a dangerous place. While most lawns and gardens aren’t lying in wait to harm you, unintentional neglect can create the potential for injuries, accidents, and other mishaps. You can reduce the incidence of ER visits, hospitalizations and even death by taking just a few precautions to upgrade the safety of your outdoor space.

Maintain Even Surfaces

The good news is that many more outdoor injuries arise from aggressive outdoor play than from simply hanging out in the backyard. According to the Centers for Disease Control, More than 40 percent of outdoor accidents are caused by fast-paced activities such as snowboarding, sledding, and hiking.

That said, your backyard can still cause injuries such as breaks and sprains, and maintaining your yard’s surfaces is essential for avoiding them. One of the most common reasons for ankle breaks is stepping in a hole, for instance. Make sure you don’t have holes in the yard, cover any firepits (which will also reduce the risk of burns in hot coals), and check particularly to ensure that the ground underneath any tall grass is even – otherwise people running across it could step in a small hole or ravine, posing a serious danger. For best results, do the following on a regular basis:

  • Check for newly-formed holes and fill them.
  • Tamp down mole hills and other soft spots.
  • Mow your grass.
  • Ensure paving stones and other flat surfaces are plumb and free of defects that could present a tripping or slipping hazard, especially to someone running across them.

General Lawn Care and Plant Patrol

In addition to your yard’s surfaces, the things growing in your yard could pose risks. You should conduct frequent walk-throughs to ensure your pathways are clear of trip hazards such as downed branches or debris. Trip hazards can be especially dangerous to the elderly, who trip and fall at a rate of once per second in the United States, according to the CDC.

You should also be on the lookout for poisonous plants. A surprising number of common plants are very dangerous to pets or children. For instance, the golden-chain tree can be fatal to kids who ingest too many of its pods, while beautiful lilies pack a poison punch cats can’t always survive. Check out this list of poisonous plants from ProFlowers, and learn more in the Pet Safety section below.

Tree Care

Trees are a lovely way to grace your space, but they can cause damage or even death if you aren’t careful. If you have trees on your property – especially if they are over parts of your home, garage, driveway or walkways – you must be extra cautious to ensure those trees stay healthy and strong. Here’s how:

  • Regularly examine your trees for signs of decay.
  • Check limbs, which shouldn’t show any signs of browning, dust or powder (which indicates disease), or leaf death.
  • Remove broken, cracked or dead limbs.

If a tree is otherwise healthy and green, but one limb is brown, that limb needs to come down – otherwise it can die and fall off. After a storm, always respond to tree damage appropriately.

Outdoor Structure Safety

Structures such as decks, patios, swing sets, and gazebos all make your backyard more inviting, but they also all require some maintenance to keep them safe. Patios and porches are typically safe as long as you don’t let them get slippery (though ice, wet leaves, and other debris can make even the roughest surfaces slick).

Decks and swing sets must support human weight, however, and often the weight of many at one time. To keep them safe:

  • Make sure wood and metal supports are strong, with no sign of rotting or rusting. Be on the lookout for destructive insects like termites and carpenter ants as well.
  • Pay attention to continuous creaking or “settling” noises
  • Have a professional inspect your structure if you can’t make the decision yourself

As for overhead hangout areas such as gazebos or trellises, routinely check them for structural integrity. Especially after a storm, which can destabilize structures without showing any obvious signs, it’s important to closely inspect your structures before using them again.

Playground, Trampoline and Water Features

Trampolines might seem like a fun way for kids to blow off steam, but the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that more than 100,000 trampoline-related injuries were reported in 2009, the last year for which there is complete data. This is a significant number, and makes trampolines one of the biggest potential risks your backyard could contain. Help kids find other ways to have fun.

If you’re going to keep a pool around for grownup use, make sure it has a fence with a good lock on it, and always make sure to close it. Remember that it only takes a few inches of water for drowning to occur, so even small ponds or fountains should be guarded closely – especially if you have toddlers or smaller breed dogs which may not be able to extricate themselves from the water.

Power Tools and Pesticides

Tools and toxic substances also create a problem. Mowers and power tools are relatively easy to make safe, however:

  • Keep keys hidden away from the machine
  • Turn off and unplug tools.
  • If you want to be extra cautious, you can flip breakers to shut down power to the garage.

As for pesticides, keep them out of reach of children or pets, and try to opt for natural, non-toxic options.

Pet Safety

Pets are similar to children in that they don’t know what’s best for them. Water features are one of the main concerns, and poisonous plants another. Keep in mind that animals and humans do not always experience the same effects from toxic plants, so you need to know the plants that are specifically toxic to animals – check out this list from the ASPCA – and plan your yard accordingly. If what you think of as your backyard includes a large pasture for horses, it’s also important that toxic plants don’t grow around the edges or through the fence, so keep access points well-trimmed.

Your yard should be a place where you can relax with your friends and family and enjoy the outdoors. If you’ll take a proactive approach to maintaining a safe and healthy space for those you love, you’ll enjoy your R&R that much more.