Summertime is a good time to survey your yard and play areas for potential safety hazards. To minimize the risk of injury, activities and play equipment should be appropriate for the age and development skills of each child. The following categories highlight items to assess and take preventative measures to reduce the risks for injury.
Most people think about pool and spa safety during the summertime, but several other water hazards may exist in your own backyard, neighborhood, or community center. A water pond, stream, decorative fountain, watering can/bucket and animal’s water dish are all potential drowning hazards. Young children can drown in as little as two inches of water. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security even if your child knows how to swim. When participating in boating or other water sports, be sure that children wear life vests/preservers approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. It should fit snugly enough when fastened to not slip over the child’s head. Children younger than age five should use a life vest with a floatation collar to keep the head upright and the face out of water.
Whenever there is a water hazard that is not securely fenced to protect children, a specific adult needs to be designated as the “child-watcher.” As with many other accidents, drownings often occur because one adult assumes the other is watching the kids, and vice versa. Pools and spas have a unique hazard of suction devices at the bottom. Many children have had their hair or other body part caught in them and been held under water. Suction devices in spas have also caused serious injuries to small children and you should know where the emergency shutoff valve is located. Overheating in hot tubs is also a risk for young children.
Infants and children have sensitive skin and prolonged sun exposure should be avoided. Sunscreen should be applied prior to outdoor activities and the majority of products are most effective when applied 30 minutes prior to exposure. Many parents are diligent about applying sunscreen on their children, but neglect to use it themselves. Remember to protect yourself and set a good example at the same time.
Protective pads and helmets should be worn whenever bicycles, skates, skateboards, motorized vehicles, or other wheeled objects are used. Be sure that the helmet fits the child. Helmets that are too large may slip, obscuring the child’s vision, and/or may fall off in the event of an accident. It is best to have children use these objects in areas that are off limits to cars and other traffic. Older children who are riding on the streets need to be taught safety rules of the road.
Contrary to common beliefs, most animal bites involve the family pet and not a strange animal. Children need to be taught to respect animals to play gently with them. They also need to know not to bother them when they are eating or with their young, as their protective instincts may cause them to exhibit aggressive behavior. Strange animals should not be engaged without the presence of the parent or pet owner.
Many common outdoor plants are poisonous and may be toxic if ingested. Azaleas, oleanders, philodendrons, Lily of the Valleys, Morning Glory seeds, and Angel’s Trumpet may cause serious injury and the poision control center should be called if any one of these plants is ingested. Children need to be taught not to put leaves, blossoms, bark, seeds, nuts, or any other part of a plant into their mouth. Contact the poison control center for more information on toxic plants.
Children should not be allowed to play next to an active lawnmower or other power tool because objects may be propelled from underneath it or they may get too close to it and receive serious cuts or other injuries. Be sure that all pesticides, sharp tools, paints & paint thinners, and other hazardous materials are stored in a shed or garage that can be locked or otherwise entered only with adult supervision. A garage door is best equipped with sensors that prevent it from closing on a child or pet accidentally.
Whether at a neighborhood park or in your own backyard, swing sets and other equipment should be inspected periodically to be sure the hinges, bolts, etc. are tight and not rusted. Material under the equipment should be rubber, barkdust or some other soft material that will cushion a fall. Wooden structures should be smooth to prevent splintering. Children should be taught not to walk in front of or behind swings, and not to walk under crossbars and other climbing equipment. Adult supervision is always preferable when children are using these objects.