Before the barbecue, accident-proof your yard

8 yard-safety tips to keep your family and friends safe this summer

Consumer Reports magazine: June 2013

Spending time outdoors with friends and family is one of the joys of summer. Most Americans play it fairly safe when it comes to entertaining outdoors, according to a recent nationally representative Consumer Reports survey of homeowners with yards. But we did spot several danger zones where attitudes are more lax. So before your next backyard barbecue, pool party, or fireside fete, use these tips to do a safety check.

Check the deck

Close to nature and within easy access of the kitchen, decks are ideal open-air gathering spaces. More than half of people in our survey have one. But 40 million decks in the U.S. are more than 20 years old, according to the North American Deck and Railing Association. So it’s no wonder the structures, together with porches, cause an average of 45,000 injuries each year.

What you can do

  • Look for loose connections at the ledger board, which attaches the deck to your home’s main structure.
  • Inspect the deck for rotten boards, popped nails, loose fasteners, and wobbly or rotten steps.
  • Make sure railings are secure and at least 3 feet tall with no more than 4 inches between rails.
  • When in doubt, have your deck inspected by a structural engineer.

Light the way

The rise in outdoor fireplaces has resulted in more nighttime entertaining and an extension of the season into darker months of the year. Prevent trips and falls by ensuring adequate landscape lighting on paths and stairways. Exterior lighting can also deter burglars, especially if it’s equipped with motion sensors.

What you can do

  • The best landscape fixtures have a shield or reflector that prevents glare while casting light directly onto a pathway.
  • Consider LED fixtures, which continue to come down in price. Many have the warm light of incandescent bulbs, and their low- voltage wiring is easier to install because it needs to be buried only 6 inches, not the 18 inches required with line voltage.
  • If you want to use decorative tiki torches, make sure they’re securely anchored and set back from combustibles, including low-hanging branches.

Play safely

Photo: Lasting Images

We’ve come a long way from the days of lawn darts, which were banned in 1988. But almost a quarter of survey respondents who were hurt outdoors in their yards said the cause was sporting or gaming equipment. Pool owners take note: Almost 300 children younger than 5 drown each year in pools, and thousands more are injured.

What you can do

  • To prevent run-ins, always put badminton nets, croquet wickets, and other equipment away when not in use.
  • Think twice about installing a trampoline. They sent about 83,000 victims, often children, to emergency rooms in 2011.
  • Many municipalities require a barrier around pools that’s 4 or 5 feet high. For more information on pool safety, go to

Contain outdoor fires

Photo: Linda Oyama Bryan

Whether it’s a built-in fire pit or a freestanding chiminea, an outdoor fireplace brings campsite magic to your backyard. Almost a third of our survey respondents said they own one. But this backyard amenity, along with patio heaters, caused an estimated 2,900 injuries in 2011, based on emergency-room-treated injuries reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That’s almost triple the number of similar injuries in 2006.

What you can do

  • Keep a fire extinguisher or hose nearby, and make sure embers are fully extinguished by either burying them in dirt or dousing them with water.
  • As with grills, establish a 3-foot safety zone for children around fire pits.

Guard the grill

Almost 90 percent of our survey respondents said they barbecue at home, making it the most popular outdoor activity. But with increased grilling comes a greater frequency of unintended blazes. In fact, fire departments now respond to approximately 8,600 home fires each year involving grills, barbecues, and hibachis.

What you can do

  • Position the grill at least 10 feet from your house and other structures and establish a 3-foot safety zone for kids.
  • Place a nonflammable pad under the grill to protect the deck.
  • Regularly check gas valves, hoses, and connections for leaks and breaks.
  • Stand back when lighting the grill, and light the gas quickly to prevent a flare-up.
  • Don’t leave a grill that’s in use unattended.

Provide protection

The best outdoor spaces offer a combination of sun and shade. More than 85 percent of respondents provided sun protection in the form of umbrellas, awnings, or trees. Also be on the lookout for dead or sick tree branches that could fall on people in your yard.

What you can do

  • Make sunscreen available for guests. In our tests, Equate (Walmart) Ultra Protection SPF 50 offered very good protection against UVA and UVB radiation.
  • Remove dead or broken tree branches, which are vulnerable to various insects and diseases, as soon as possible to prevent the disease from spreading and the branches from falling down.

Safeguard swing sets

If you have a swing set or other play structure in your yard, make sure it meets safety standards, especially if the equipment was there when you moved in. About 51,000 injuries occur each year on home play equipment. And 148,000 injuries happen on public playgrounds, mostly involving falls from equipment.

What you can do

  • Check that equipment is age-appropriate and installed on level ground, and put soft landing material in the play area.
  • Ensure 6 feet of clearance on all sides and check that swings are at least 8 inches apart.
  • Make sure bolts are secure and not sticking out. Make sure anchoring hardware does not pose a tripping or gouging hazard.

Protect the pool

Swimming is synonymous with summer. The good news is that 90 percent of pool owners in our survey said they never let kids swim unsupervised. Among respondents with kiddie pools, an encouraging 84 percent ensure constant supervision, and 69 percent drain the pool after each use. Nonetheless, among children ages 1 to 4, drowning is the second leading cause of death behind birth defects. And most drownings for that age group occur in home swimming pools, not lakes and oceans.

What you can do

  • Install a fence that’s 4 or 5 feet high with a self-closing and self-latching gate, mandatory in many municipalities.
  • Equip the pool with emergency flotation devices and a pool hook or reaching pole.
  • Install compliant drain covers and keep children away from filters, pipes, and other potential sources of entrapment.
  • Always drain kiddie pools when they’re not in use.
  • Keep a pool-safety tool kit that includes a first-aid kit and scissors to cut hair and clothing, just in case.

By the Numbers: What Americans say they do to keep their yards safe

69% Drain kiddie pools after each use.

68% Always remove gaming or sporting equipment when not in use.

63% Always make sure charcoals are fully extinguished.

58% Always light steps and paths adequately.

32% Equip pool with an emergency flotation device.

20% Use a nonflammable pad under a grill at all times.

Source: Consumer Reports National Research Center. Based on percentage of homeowners with these types of equipment in their yards.

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