The backyard is a popular spot in the summer, particularly if you enjoy entertaining or have children. While guests hang out on the patio, your kids and their friends cartwheel in the grass, twirl on the swings, or jump into the pool. The scent of grilled burgers and hotdogs fills the air as dragonflies dart and the dog waits for table scraps.
It’s an idyllic scene, and one that shatters all too easily. Backyards can contain many hazards, ranging from poisonous plants and pesticides to grills and lawn mowers. If left unattended, they can put guests, kids, pets, and your home itself at risk.
Fortunately, the dangers can be addressed and surmounted with the following checklist. Use it to improve backyard safety so you can get back to grilling, chatting, and playing your game of croquet.
1. Check Your Patio for Structural Weaknesses
Wooden patio and decks are very susceptible to water damage, which typically manifests as rotted and warped boards. Rot spreads quickly, and failing wood can splinter underfoot. Brick and stone patios also require upkeep, as missing grout or broken tiles can be tripping hazards.
Loose or missing railing slats can also prove dangerous for small children, especially if the patio area is raised.
Give your deck or patio regular maintenance treatments using a lumber-seal (Amazon) for wood or a brick & masonry sealer (Amazon) for stone. It’s also a good idea to invest in a deck guard (Amazon), as it can help keep kids and small animals from getting through gaps in safety railings.
2. Practice Proper Safety around Grills and Fire Pits
Grilling produces divine scents and meals. It also yields a large number of home fires — an average of 8,900 annually, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Safety issues can arise for a few different reasons.
- Irregular cleaning and maintenance
- Proximity to a flammable structure, such as a patio railing or tree
- Gas or propane leaks
- Lack of attention
- Use of improper cooking utensils
Fire pits — even those not used for cooking — are also hazardous, especially those models that don’t have any real barrier around the open flame.
To address the safety concerns cited above, invest in a few grill and fire pit safety items. A flame-resistant grill mat (Amazon) can help reduce outdoor cooking fires, while a fire pit cover (Amazon) or spark screen (Amazon) provide good defenses for fire rings.
It’s also a good idea to purchase a portable fire extinguisher. If you’re not sure which class or type of extinguisher you need, check out our Fire Extinguisher Review Guide.
3. Implement Specific Rules and Safety Measures for Pool Use
Pools can be a lot of fun, but they also require a little more effort to keep them safe. Without a gated fence around the pool, for instance, a cool summer soak can quickly become dangerous.
Another hazard with backyard pools is the lack of supervision and rules found at most community pools. If kids are diving in shallow areas, and if there’s no one supervising them as they play, the risk of injury or drowning goes up substantially.
Follow the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recommendation for a dedicated “water watcher” — always have at least one adult supervising kids and teens playing in the pool. If there’s no adult to act as a lifeguard, the pool should be off-limits.
There are also a host of devices that can keep your pool safe whether it’s in use or not. Our Top Pool Safety Products report has more details on the various options out there.
4. Make Sure Playsets and the Surrounding Areas Are Sturdy and Secure
Scraped knees are normal, but you should take steps to avoid serious playground-related injuries in the backyard. Metal playground equipment, specifically slides and swings, can become extremely hot during the summer months. If your yard doesn’t cast natural shade over your playset, it may get hot enough to cause burns.
Playsets can also harbor other hazards, too — bees or wasps might nest in the structure, loose bolts or railings can cause a fall, and the surrounding substrate may be spread too thin to provide much protection.
Do some prep work and maintenance every spring to keep your backyard safe. First, set up an awning or playset canopy (Amazon) to keep the set out of the hot sun. Then, check the playset for insect nests — the creatures often build their homes in the playground’s pipes. Finally, look for rotten wood and bad bolts, and make the necessary repairs.
You may also want to replace the surrounding substrate, if needed. The ground under the swings and play equipment should be covered with at least 12 inches of wood chips to prevent an injury from a fall. Another option is Rubber-Cal Eco-Safety Interlock Playground Tiles, which are more durable than mulch.
5. Verify that Garden Plants and Supplies Are Out of Reach for Kids and Pets
A yard can harbor any number of poisonous plants. While most cause only a rash or an upset stomach, some can be deadly to animals and young kids. Oleanders, for instance, are very pretty but can be lethal.
Keep in mind that many lawn and garden products, like weed killers or pesticides, are also toxic. Toddlers, preschoolers, and even puppies get into things they shouldn’t, and that can include poisonous chemicals if they’re not stored properly.
You should do some research before planting any flowers or vegetables. If you choose to include toxic plants in your garden, secure them in elevated garden beds, and consider enclosing them with safety fencing.
When treating your lawn or garden with herbicides or pesticides, keep pets and kids indoors. Even if you use nontoxic pesticides and herbicides, you will want to play it safe by keeping an eye out and storing the chemicals in an area inaccessible your pets and kids.
As our 8-Steps Poison Proofing Guide notes, it’s also smart to keep the number for Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) on your fridge or in your cellphone for easy access.
6. Use and Store Lawn Mowers and Other Power Tools Safely
Roughly 35,000 people are injured by power lawn mowers every year. Some of those instances are the result of improper handling — someone wears flip-flops or removes the safety guards to mow the lawn faster. Other accidents happen due to yard debris or rocks getting spun through the mower.
If the shed where you store your mower and other power tools isn’t secure, there’s also an increased risk that a child could get inside and hurt themselves on one of the gadgets.
The rule is simple when it comes to mowing and trimming the lawn: safety first. You should always wear closed-toe shoes, remove debris like rocks and branches from the yard prior to mowing, and keep pets and young kids away from where you’re working.
As for storage, lawn equipment should always be properly stowed and secured to thwart both curious kids and burglars. Our Shed Security Guide has tips on how to properly secure your storage shed — which will also help secure the tools it holds.
7. Bring Home Security System Elements into the Yard
Home security systems often emphasize the inside of the home, featuring intruder alerts and interior video surveillance. However, the outside plays a pivotal role in ensuring end-to-end security as well.
The backyard is your first line of defense, as well as a potential target. Poorly lit areas can provide good cover for intruders, and an unmonitored yard provides easy access to would-be burglars.
Other ordinary backyard fixtures, like pools and sheds, can also become accident sites if they aren’t properly secured.
Invest in a security and lighting system — motion-activated lights are ideal. Include motion detectors near any pools or storage areas, so that you can know as soon as someone gets near those areas.
Check out our guides on Burglar-Proofing Your Backyard and Motion Sensor Lighting for further tips on picking the right system for your yard.
8. Take Care of Any Weak Tree Branches
In the winter, ice, wind, and snowstorms can wreak havoc on tree limbs and roofs. When summer comes, those dead and weak limbs are especially susceptible to temperature changes, meaning they could drop without much warning. Kids playing on a swing or in a tree house could be endangered by those falling branches.
To keep your home and family safe, either care for the trees yourself or hire a landscaping service.
If you choose to do the tree trimming yourself, you will want to invest in the proper equipment, like a pole tree pruner (Amazon) and a chainsaw (Amazon). You should also purchase a safety harness (Amazon) and reliable ladder (Amazon) if the trees you’re trimming are particularly tall.
In the event that you’re unfamiliar with how to safely use and maintain the tools needed to trim trees yourself, pay for a landscaping service. It can be expensive, but a professional can do the work quickly, efficiently, and safely.
A backyard has many moving parts when it comes to safety, but you can keep track of them all with this checklist. Use the above solutions to address any security concerns, and you’ll soon have the best — and safest — backyard on the block.
*SafeWise has conducted impartial research to recommend products. This is not a guarantee. Each individual’s unique needs should be considered when deciding on chosen products.