Bringing the joy of gardening to the lives of a significant number of UK children is one of the Royal Horticultural Society’s driving goals, and for this reason the RHS has produced this guidance to help you think about the health and safety aspects of your own Garden. In the current climate many families have decided to spend more time at home, have a go at growing their own fruit and vegetables and generally enjoy a traditionally British pastime, gardening. We hope you will find these tips of use to help ensure the safety of children in your garden.
General safety of the site
Before looking at specific issues within the Garden it is important to ensure the garden itself is safe.
Fences and walls
Check any fences and walls around your garden periodically to ensure they are in good condition, this will help to prevent children wandering off into neighbouring gardens or other premises where there may be unknown hazards. Walls have been know to collapse onto children, if they appear unstable get them repaired. Fences and walls should be of a design that is not easy for young children to climb, and gates should be fitted with a closing mechanism that cannot be readily opened by children. If hedges form part of your boundary check these periodically to ensure they have no gaps.
Check paths are free of excessive trip hazards and slippery algae etc. Where you might have the under 5’s visiting your garden avoid using small gravel and shingle surfaces that could be swallowed. As with fencing, paths and steps should be checked periodically and loose paving, steps etc made safe. If you have decking, maintained it to prevent it becoming slippery. Avoid using chicken wire on wooden surfaces as this can deteriorate and become a trip hazard itself. Non-slip coatings may help. Avoid leaving hose pipes unreeled when not in use where someone could trip over them.
If you have permanent electrically powered features in your garden, or when using electrically powered tools in the garden ensure they are protected by an RCD (Residual Current Device). An RCD will cause the supply to trip out and avoid electric shock if a power cable is damaged or a defective item of equipment is plugged into the supply. Ideally, an RCD built into your Consumer Unit is best as this will protect all your electrical sockets and circuits, but if you do not have one fitted use a portable RCD that can be plugged into a socket, which your power tool can be plugged into to ensure it is electrically safe. Test RCD’s regularly. Do not use electrically powered tools in wet conditions. Battery powered tools are the safest, particularly if there is a risk of rain. Do not leave power tools unattended where children can attempt to use them.
If digging in older gardens, be aware that there may be hidden dangers such as glass and metal. Remove waste promptly and recycle where possible. If your house was built on an old industrial site there may be a risk of soil contamination.
Soil contains an array of different micro-organisms, some beneficial, some potentially harmful, such as Tetanus. Educate your children about this, the need to wash their hands, especially before eating, and not to touch their mouths with dirty hands. Any child with a cut should have a plaster applied before they handle soil. It is good practice when gardening with children to ensure they wear gardening gloves to protect them. Teach them about safety at a young age, it will serve them well as they get older.
Composting can give off dusts and spores which in extreme cases can cause respiratory problems such as asthma. Children who are known to suffer with asthma should avoid composting, or gardening or playing near the compost bin. Do not put cooked foods, meats and fish in the compost as this can attract rats, mice and foxes. If animals nest in the compost this could indicate that the compost is too dry, adding water should prevent this. Follow the same advice above for soil in respect of gloves and hand washing.
Soil can be contaminated, in particular, by toxocara-canis and toxoplasmosis from cat, dog and fox faeces, which present a serious health risk to children. Whether you have a pet or not you should regularly check the garden where children play and remove any faeces. Do not garden with children on areas known to be visited by these animals. Take measures to prevent animals from entering your garden where possible. As mentioned above, educate your children about this and get them to wear gloves and wash their hands after gardening.
Whilst many plants are harmless, there are a number of plants that can present a range of hazards, including: being prickly or thorny, causing asthma, dermatitis, skin irritation, blistering and burns, or are toxic, harmful or irritant causing diarrhoea and vomiting if ingested.
Examples include: Grasses – can cause hay fever; buttercups – can cause damage to the digestive system and the sap rubbed into your skin can cause blistering; daffodils and hyacinths- if ingested could cause diarrhoea, vomiting, and nausea; chrysanthemums - the leaves and stems of these can cause dermatitis; elderberry - any part of the plant can cause an upset stomach.
Find out if any of the plants you have in your garden are hazardous. If you wish to have such plants in your garden consider planting them at the back of flowerbeds where they are less accessible.
Ensure your children do not to pick plants or eat any fruit unless you are there with them. Teach them which plants are hazardous and which are not, and emphasis the need to wash their hands before eating.
Insects are important and natural inhabitants of gardens, and at certain times of the year there will be a profusion of different insects – bees in spring and summer, wasps in summer and autumn, mosquitoes and midges in summer, red ants in spring, summer and autumn. Teach your children to recognise these if they don’t already know them, and teach by example how to behave when potentially dangerous flying insects fly close up! Are any of your children or children who might visit your garden allergic to insect bites and stings? If someone is known to suffer from anaphylactic shock it is vital that they receive urgent attention; some known suffers may carry there own adrenaline pen to treat themselves if stung.
A pond can be the most significant risk to children in your garden. If you have children under five, or under fives visiting your garden consideration should be given as to whether a pond is appropriate. Many accidents to children happen in their neighbour’s or parent’s friend’s gardens. If you visit friends with a pond you must check out the garden before you let your children wonder off.
Points to consider if you have a pond:
- Never leave young children in the garden unsupervised; if you need to answer the door or telephone take your child with you.
- You must make the parents of any visiting children aware that you have pond in your garden.
- If you have pond that is no longer wanted and a permanent solution is being sought, the pond could be emptied, filled with sand and used as a sand pit.
- Also consider the safety of other water containers such as water storage tanks and water butts, by ensuring they are securely fastened to a wall and a lockable cover is used.
- Lastly, you must consider your duty to trespassers. Is the pond reasonably safe for persons who may intentionally or unintentionally trespass into your garden?
Points to consider if you are thinking of installing a pond:
- The location, it should be easily visible from the house and not hidden behind shrubs;
- Fencing or a vegetative barrier can be used to prevent access. Gates in fences need a child-proof locking system. Gate alarms are available which alarm if the gate is opened;
- Design the pond with gently sloping edges, to avoid the possibility of a child falling straight into deeper water;
- If the desire is to have a water feature rather than a pond, consider a feature with no open surface of water such as cobble fountain where water runs over cobbles to a reservoir below;
- A raised pond with a retaining wall can also reduce the risk of a child being able to fall in the water;
- If one end is to be deeper than the other plant impenetrable plants to prevent children gaining access to the deeper end;
- Consider fitting a pond cover. These are child-resistant robust structures, which can fit either above the water, or just below the surface of the water. They can be either basic or decorative and available from a number of retailers.
Tools and equipment
Children like to have a go with garden tools and emulate what their parents do. Identify which tools you are happy for your children to use, such as hand trowels and forks, and teach them how to use them properly. You may consider buying them their own tools which are child sized and provide them with their own area to garden. Equally make them aware of what tools they are not allowed to use, or only use under direct supervision, and keep these tools locked in tool stores or sheds when you are not using them.
Many people garden with chemicals, which can be potentially hazardous to both children and to wildlife. Consider avoiding or minimising the use of chemical whenever possible. This will open up all sorts of discussion and investigation into organic methods of crop protection and soil fertility! If there is a need for a minimum of chemicals, store them under lock and key, out of reach of your children (and trespassers) and always in their original containers. Be aware that some fertilizers are oxidising agents and as such present a risk if involved in a fire. Store fertilizers securely away from combustible materials.
It is still possible to buy new greenhouses fitted with non-safety glass (horticultural glass), and many existing greenhouses may be fitted with this, which if it gets broken can break into sharp shards of glass with the potential to cause cuts. Look to purchase a new greenhouse fitted with polycarbonate or acrylic glazing or toughened glass, or having the glazing in your existing greenhouse replaced with this if you are concerned. If you have young children consider where you locate your greenhouse in your garden, ideal remote from where they would normally play. Also, the door should be fitted with a marking to make it obvious whether the door is open or closed, to avoid a child running into a closed door. Avoid any steps or trip hazards in the path immediately in front of the greenhouse door.
Like ponds paddling pools can be one of the most significant risks to children in your garden. Never leave a young child in a paddling pool unsupervised. As with ponds, if you need to answer the door or telephone take your child with you. At the end of the day empty them out and place them somewhere safe, or fit a secure lid if one is supplied. If left out they could fill up with sufficient rainwater overnight to present a risk of drowning to a young child. Also don’t rely on arm bands or other buoyancy aids, supervise young children at all times.
Toys and play equipment
There is a standard BS EN 71-8:2003 – ‘Safety of toys. Swings, slides and similar activity toys for indoor and outdoor family domestic use’ which applies to new toys and play equipment for use in the garden. To ensure its safety and stability ensure new play equipment is assembled in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. As with trampolines below, locate play equipment away from fences, trees, washing lines and other garden structures. Also do not place them over hard surfaces. Play surfaces and play bark can be purchased to place around play equipment to reduce the likelihood of injury in the event of a fall. Regularly check play equipment for things such as nuts and bolts working loose and components rusting in older equipment.
Garden trampolines have become very popular and provide children with a means of exercise, but they are a cause of accidents and make up 10 percent of childhood fractures. Also, 75 percent of trampoline accidents involve two or more children being on the trampoline at one time with the lighter child being five times more likely to be the one injured.
If you are considering buying a trampoline for your children buy one that has padding covering the frame and all springs and clips. Some models also have a netting cage which will help to prevent children falling off. Also consider where you intend to put it; avoid placing it along side sheds, fencing, trees, washing lines and other garden structures, and avoid placing it on over hard surfaces. Also make some simple rules for your children to follow. They must know how to use the trampoline properly; not to have more than one child on at once; to jump in the centre; zip up the netting cage when they are inside; do not allow them to attempt to somersault as this contributes to the number of head and neck injuries; and be in the vicinity to watch them on the trampoline.
When in the closed position rotary washing lines can be a hazard as young children can get entangled in them with the risk of strangulation. When you have finishes with the line either leave it erect or preferably store it safely out of the reach of children.
While all of the above is common sense, we hope you will find these tips of use to help you consider the safety of children in your garden. We hope they help you whether you are having a go at growing your own fruit and vegetables, introducing your children to the delights of gardening, simply relaxing with the Sunday papers, or entertaining your friends and family.