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Summer Safety, Part 2: Protecting Children in Your Backyard, On Playgrounds, and on Wheels

During the summer, children enjoy exploring the great outdoors. Your own backyard, the sidewalk, and playgrounds become a world of adventure where children can discover rocks, plants, insects, and wildlife. They can also try out their new physical abilities by running, climbing, swinging, jumping, cycling, and skating. Keep in mind the following precautions for a fun and safe summer.

Backyard Safety

It’s generally safer to let children play in the backyard instead of the front, nearer the street. But be sure to watch out for the hazards in your own backyard as well:

Barbeque Grills:

Children can burn themselves on the coals or the grill. They can also get poisoned by drinking lighter fluid; cut themselves on the utensils; and get bacterial food poisoning from contact with raw meat. Make your barbeques safe:

  • Keep children away from the grill. This is crucial both during and after cooking, when the coals and the grill can still be hot.
  • Store the lighter fluid, matches, sparker, and cooking utensils out-of-reach.
  • Don’t let children handle raw meat. Cook meat and poultry thoroughly until the juices run clear before serving it to children.
Gardening Equipment:

Children can get burned, cut, or fall from the mower. They can get eye injuries from stones or twigs shot out from the mower. Children can also cut themselves on garden tools, and become poisoned by pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Garden safely:

  • Keep children out of the yard while you’re mowing the lawn. Don’t let young children push or ride on the mower. Store the mower and gasoline out-of-reach of children.
  • Store sharp gardening tools out-of-reach. If she enjoys helping in the garden, get her children’s gloves and plastic gardening tools.
  • Store gardening chemicals out-of-reach of children, in their original labeled containers. Never store chemicals in soda or juice bottles.
  • Store gardening chemicals out-of-reach of children, in their original labeled containers. Never store chemicals in soda or juice bottles.
  • Don’t apply garden chemicals while children are playing in the yard. Keep them out of the yard for the time period stated on the label.
Playground Safety

Children love to climb, slide and swing. Unfortunately, most playground injuries occur when children fall from climbing equipment, slides, and swings. Other injuries result from tripping, equipment tipping over, collisions with swings, head entrapment in openings, entanglement of clothing

  • Keep children out of the yard while you’re mowing the lawn. Don’t let young children push or ride on the moweon equipment, and wounds from protrusions and sharp edges. During the summer, children can also get burned from metal slides that have heated up in the sun. Here are some safety tips for playgrounds at home, school, and in parks.
  • Use equipment that’s right for a child’s age and abilities: The abilities of young children change as they grow and develop. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has developed separate playground safety standards for preschool-age children (2-5 years), and school-age children (5-12 years). Don’t let toddlers or preschoolers play on school-age equipment such as climbers over 5½ feet, overhead ladders, and sliding poles. (The general rule is that a safe height for a child to climb to is her age in feet, e.g., 3 feet high for a 3-year-old).
  • Don’t let children play on dangerous equipment: Heavy swings with animal figures, multiple-occupancy gliders, free-swinging rope swings, swinging exercise rings and trapeze bars, and trampolines are all hazardous for young children. Also, don’t attach ropes, clotheslines or leashes to play equipment—these can strangle children.
  • Make sure there is shock-absorbing surfacing under and around the equipment: The surface under playground equipment should be soft enough to cushion a fall. Pavement, concrete, hard-packed dirt, and grass are not safe. Safe surfacing materials include approved rubber surfacing; and wood chips, wood mulch, sand, or pea gravel approximately 9-12 inches deep. Make sure the surfacing extends at least 6 feet around equipment. For swings, it should extend twice the height of the swing beam.
Check for the following:
  • Guardrails and safety barriers: Children can fall from platforms, ramps, and bridgeways. For preschoolers, surfaces over 20” high should have guardrails, and surfaces over 30” high should have safety barriers.
  • Spaces between rails that could trap children: Young children often try to slide feet first through openings in railings or platforms. If the opening is unsafe, the child’s body will pass through but his head (which is slightly wider) will get trapped, causing strangulation. Make sure openings are less than 3.5” (so the child’s body can’t fit through) or greater than 9” (so his head will pass through).
  • Sharp points or edges: Bolts, rods and hooks can puncture a child’s skin or eyes, and entangle clothes causing strangulation. Make sure S-hooks on swings are closed and protruding bolts are cut or capped.
  • Remove tripping hazards: Children run between different parts of the play area and can easily trip and fall. Bury concrete footings at least 12” below the ground; and eliminate tree roots and large rocks.
  • Regularly check the play equipment and surfacing: Over time, with use and weather, play areas can develop hazards. Remove broken glass, fallen branches, and animal excrement; replace the surfacing, as needed; and repair broken equipment.
  • Supervise the children and reinforce safety rules at all times: No matter how safely designed a play area may be, young children are safe only when they’re constantly supervised by responsible adults. Stand or sit in a spot where you can always see them. Know your grandchild’s abilities and be at his side on more challenging equipment to reinforce safety and intervene quickly if necessary to prevent an injury.
Bicycles & Other Wheels

Children love to go fast and “fly” on bicycles, scooters, skateboards and in-line skates. Unfortunately, crashes and falls are common because of children’s limited judgment, skills and strength. Concussions, facial cuts, knocked out teeth, and broken arms and legs are common. Some of the most serious injuries and deaths occur when children are not wearing helmets and safety gear, and when they ride on the street and are hit by motor vehicles. Here are some tips for safety on wheels:

  • Wait until children are old enough to ride safely: Children are usually ready to learn to ride a two-wheel bicycle between 5 and 8 years of age. CPSC and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children ride skateboards only after age 5, and only with close adult supervision until age 10. They recommend that children under age 8 ride scooters and in-line rollerskates only with close adult supervision.
  • Make sure the equipment is safe: Check that the equipment is certified for safety and not on the CPSC recall list (check www.cpsc.gov). Also make sure it’s the proper size for the child and maintained in good repair.
  • Make sure children wear helmets and other protective gear: A safe helmet is crucial to prevent serious head injuries—check the package to make sure it’s certified by ANSI, ASTM, Snell Memorial Foundation, or CPSC. For skateboards, scooters and inline skates, elbow pads and knee pads are also important. Wrist guards are recommended for skateboarding and rollerskating, but they’re not recommended for bicycles or scooters since they may interfere with gripping the handlebars. A full set of safety gear costs less than $100—a good investment to prevent a more costly injury.
  • Find safe places for children to ride: Playgrounds, parks and rinks where he can ride on smooth pavement, far away from cars, are ideal. Avoid sand, gravel and uneven pavement, which can cause falls. Don’t let children ride on driveways, in parking lots, or on the street; and, don’t allow riding after dark when visibility is poor.

Please also read:

Summer Sun Safety Part 1: Protecting Children from the Sun, Insects and Water Hazards

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education