Toddlers are fascinated by the lure of the garden. While it’s a place of adventure, there are lots of potential dangers. We take a look at the top eight risks and how to avoid a trip to the emergency department.

Don’t turn your back

It’s easy to think you can safely leave your child for a couple of minutes to answer the phone or finish the washing up, but children aged between one and two are particularly at risk of danger.

Sarah Colles, home safety advisor at ROSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents), says, “Although toddlers are more mobile, their natural inquisitiveness means they can get into difficulties very quickly and they don’t have the co-ordination or stability to get out of trouble.”

What to do:
Never leave your child unattended outdoors and take particular care when visiting friends – they may not be as safety-conscious as you.

Dirty hands

Toddlers love putting anything in their mouths and this includes picking up dirt from the garden. Garden soil may contain cat or dog faeces that may then be ingested. Cat faeces can contain toxoplasmosis, a parasite that is relatively harmless, but can cause birth defects if passed on to a pregnant woman. Dog faeces can contain toxocariasis, an infection present in worm eggs, which can cause flu-like symptoms.

What to do:

Clear up after your own cat or dog if they mess in the garden. Make sure your child washes her hands after playing outside.

Water warning

“It is the third largest cause of accidental death in the home for under fives and the majority of cases happen during the summer months of July and August,” explains Colles. ” It only takes moments for a child to drown – and it can happen in less than 3cm of water.”

What to do:
It’s vital that you never leave your child unattended near any kind of water, whether it’s a paddling pool or a filled bucket. Fill and empty the pool each day so that you can make a point of being present at all times while your children play.

Fill in your garden pond or securely cover and fence it off.

“Take particular care when visiting other people’s gardens – our research shows that 80 per cent of pond drownings occur in the garden of a friend, relative or neighbour”

Insecure fencing

Even if your garden is child-friendly, your neighbour’s may not be and small children can wriggle through the smallest space in a broken fence or hedge to explore further afield. Exposed nails can also cause damage and may necessitate a tetanus injection.

What to do:
Make sure that your garden fence is secure, and that there is no way your toddler can climb on something to help him up – around eight children under the age of four die in falls every year.

Barbecues

Toddlers are fascinated by barbecues so it’s important that they realise the inherent dangers and learn not to go near them. Lit barbecues become very hot very quickly and if your child touches the main cooking area or even the lid, he may burn his hands. There are two main types of barbecue: coal and gas fire – both are dangerous. Even when no longer burning, coal can remain hot for hours and must not be touched. It’s easy to relax about things at a barbecue but the consequences could be dire.

What to do:
Be extra vigilant at all times. Do not leave children alone with the barbecue and explain very carefully that they must not go near it because it is very hot – even when you are no longer cooking. Keep lids, grills and cooking utensils out of reach and remember not to leave matches or a lighter lying around. If your child does badly burn himself, it’s best to go the emergency room. Placing the area that has been burned under a cold running tap for several minutes first may also help.

Dangerous tools

Equipment such as lawnmowers, secateurs, strimmers and hammers hold infinite fascination, particularly for boys who want to ‘be like dad’. Garden sheds are adventure playgrounds to children and they are completely unaware of the dangers. Rotary or ‘umbrella’ washing lines can also be a hazard when they are closed as children may be tempted to play with the line, with a risk of strangling.

What to do:

Keep your washing line erect at all times to avoid accidents. Put away equipment and tools in a locked shed.

“Store chemicals, such as weed killer, out of reach on shelves – over 32,000 children are treated in hospital every year with suspected poisoning.”

Never pour chemicals into a different container, such as an old lemonade bottle and make sure child-proof tops are screwed on properly. Garden products like fertilisers and slug pellets can also be dangerous, so lock these away too.

Poisonous plants

Many harmless-looking plants in your garden can cause skin irritation when touched and can be poisonous if the leaves, flowers, berries or bulbs are eaten. Some of the more common ones to watch out for include: azalea, daffodil bulbs, deadly nightshade, delphinium, foxglove, hyacinth, lily of the valley, privet, rhododendron, rhubarb leaves, yew and laburnum.

What to do:

Encourage your child not to pick plants or flowers. Keep the culprit plants at the back of the flowerbed, or better still, pull them out.

Garden toys

Make sure toys in the garden are suitable for your child’s age. Toddlers love to copy older children and don’t understand that they are not as capable or they shouldn’t put small objects in their mouth. Children can also hurt themselves if play equipment isn’t secure or well placed in the garden.

What to do:

Ensure outdoor toys are weather-proof and won’t warp or deteriorate if left outside. See that they are properly assembled and make regular checks that no screws or fittings have worked loose. Place apparatus such as slides in a safe place and make sure that nothing obstructs your child’s descent or that they can hurt themselves once they reach the bottom. The toys should conform to BS 5665 or EN71 safety standards.

And finally… badminton rackets, cricket bats, a drinks tray can all become lethal weapons when left lying around as your child could easily trip and hurt himself, so keep the lawn or patio free of obstacles. Suntan lotion and insect repellent should also be kept out of harm’s way as you never know what your child will squirt into his mouth.

For information on Child Safety Week run in June with CAPT