The spring equinox this year falls on Tuesday 20 March – marking the start of some longer days and hopefully better weather. Spring is a positive season all round, there is nothing more hopeful than the sight of daffodils nodding their happy yellow heads in the breeze, the sun warming your face encouraging you to get outside, play and learn with the children to improve their development.
Gardens are great to have and wonderful to be in but they do have their hazards, particularly to children, as the accident statistics remind us all too graphically. Far too many children are hurt, and even sometimes killed, within domestic gardens every year. So to help you to avoid any of the children in your care being one of those statistics here are some hints and tips to get your garden spring ready.
Make sure children can't get out onto the road or into other gardens. The last thing you want to hear is the squeal of tyres interrupting playtime. Fix any gaps in fences and make sure that there are no exposed nails. If garden railings or hedges have openings wider than 6.5cm (2.6in), block them up with boards or safety netting. Gates should have a child proof lock so they’re not easily opened, this will help keep children safe inside.
Sand and gravel pits
Sandpits can be great fun. They are also a potential source of infection. They need to be well maintained and kept clean.
- Make sure the sandpit is well drained when it is built, so that it stays as dry as possible.
- Sandpits should be closely covered when unattended to prevent contamination from animal faeces or inappropriately discarded sharp or dangerous objects such as broken glass.
- Shade cloth can be used to cover the sand pit. Plastic covers keep the sand damp and, therefore, are not recommended.
- The sand should be of a depth that can be easily raked over before each use, to help screen for foreign objects. This also helps to air the sand and is a good way of disinfecting it.
- If the sand needs disinfecting, as in the event of an animal using it as a toilet, fill a watering can with mild detergent or household disinfectant diluted in water and pour over the sand to kill the germs. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Climbing frames inspection and maintenance
Domestic climbing frames provide children with lots of opportunity for fun and healthy activity. Suitable siting and regular checks will identify faults or dangers and help prevent incidents.
Avoid putting climbing frames or playhouses near concreted areas or too near walls, fences, or large bushes, as these may be fallen against or into.
Complete these simple checks as part of a regular routine:
- no evidence of obvious wear or damage
- area safe from health hazards e.g. glass, faeces etc.
- all fastening tightly secured
- no broken chains, stretched links or loose or twisted shackles
- uprights unbroken and firm in the ground
You can buy play surface to lay in your garden as well, which reduce the risks of injury.
Children and many adults love playing around on trampolines. The downside is that hospital Emergency Departments (A&E) are now having to deal with significant numbers of trampolining injuries. The following points will help to keep children safe.
- Always use a safety net to prevent falls off the trampoline and check the safety net is attached in accordance to the manufactures instructions and if damaged is replaced.
- Ensure the safety pads are not damaged and the pads cover the springs, hooks and frame to prevent injuries on the trampoline
- Inspect any worn, defective or missing parts
- Check that the springs and cords are attached to the frame as per manufacturers instructions
- Supervise your child and make sure they take a rest from trampolining
- Only allow one child at a time to use the trampoline
- Tell them to only bounce on the middle of the trampoline
- Tell them to step on and off the trampoline, not to jump
- Don't let them go underneath the trampoline
- New trampolines should meet the European Standard EN7-14:2014
- Put the trampoline on energy absorbing ground, such as soft and springy lawn, bark woodchip, sand or other cushioning material
- Don't put the trampoline on hard surfaces such as concrete, tarmac or hard packed mud without absorbent safety matting
Domestic trampolines aren't suitable for doing somersaults or flips.
RoSPA produces useful information about trampoline safety
Garden sheds and garden tools
Storing your garden tools safety in the shed is the first step towards to keeping children safe in the garden. Curious children will want to touch every tool you own and aren’t afraid to venture into sheds when they’re looking for new toys to play with! Make sure that your sharp tools like secateurs and lawnmowers are stored safely behind a locked door to prevent accidental cuts and scrapes.
Keep garden chemicals out of reach
The bright colours on the packaging for pesticides, weed killers and plant food can be appealing to small children. You should store these dangerous chemicals behind the locked door of your garden shed. However, if this isn’t possible, the next best place to store these products is on a high self where they will be safely out of reach from small hands.
Plants and shrubs
A lot of plants, shrubs, flowers and trees in the garden are poisonous to inquisitive little ones. Small children in particular are often attracted by brightly coloured berries, leaves and petals and may pick them or pop them in their mouths. Often this causes only mild symptoms, but some plants are capable of causing severe poisoning. The most common offenders include ivy, lilies, rhododendron, azaleas and foxgloves. Familiarise yourself with the plants in the garden, and remove those you are not sure about or that are listed as poisonous – it is really just not worth the risk. The Royal Horticultural Society provides a useful list RHS - Potentially harmful garden plants.
Keep your borders trimmed back from paths. Try and avoid prickly or thorny shrubs as they can become entangled in smaller children's clothes, hair or possibly faces and eyes as they walk, run or ride past.
Ponds and water features
Children love water and are naturally drawn to or pond and other water features you may have. Children most at risk are from one through to three years due to their mobility increasing whilst their coordination hasn’t quite caught up. As children get older the risks reduce however the dangers are still present so you should ensure your garden features are adequately protected.
RoSPA has created good reference guides to help you with garden pond and water safety in your garden: Water and Leisure Safety - Garden Ponds
Age appropriate and control of use
It’s an obvious point, but one which can sometimes be overlooked. Mixing age ranges using play equipment can result in serious injuries. According to a recent study by RoSPA it is often the smallest/youngest child that is injured.
Ensure the equipment is appropriate for the age of children using it, for some equipment it may be necessary to identify an age or height restriction. Restrict and control numbers on apparatus at one time.
Finally, always ensure children wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after being outdoors and in the garden. Germs are the number one cause for many illnesses.
RoSPA - Water and Leisure Safety - Garden Ponds
RoSPA - Trampoline Safety
RHS - Potentially harmful garden plants
RoSPA - Sandplay in Childrens Areas
Support from PACEY