As you gaze upon your neatly trimmed backyard, which is filled with lush green grass and a gently burbling fountain, you're filled with a serene sense of accomplishment. This is your territory, your castle, your hideout from the hurricanes of life. Yet lurking behind the tidiness and beauty of your yard are hazards and death traps, stalking you from every angle. Darwin's Law never sleeps, no ... not even in your own homey haven.
That's right -- your very own yard is out to get you. Those hidden dangers can easily hurt you, and in extreme cases, they might even cut you down for good, just like you've been trying to do with those stubborn thistles and dandelions.
Good old common sense and caution will protect you and your family from most of those hazards. But everyone has their blind spots. One person's fun landscaping project is another person's peril. It all depends on your lifestyle and your tolerance for risk.
Those brilliant yellow flowers? Well, they might make your wife's heart melt, but the bees they attract may present an unreasonable allergic risk for your sensitive son. And that's just for starters.
Keep reading and you'll read all about some of the most common backyard menaces and how to keep them from endangering anyone.
Trampolines are hilariously fun. These jumping and springing contraptions can keep both kids and adults (and even some famous YouTube pets) entertained for hours on end. But anyone who's ridden the often unpredictable upswings of a trampoline knows that these bouncy planes can quickly go from frivolous to frightening in about one-fifth of a second.
During 2009, the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System indicated that there were roughly 98,000 trampoline-related injuries in the U.S. Of those injuries, more than 3,000 resulted in hospitalization [Source: USA Today].
As anyone familiar with the double bounce already knows, most injuries occur when more than one person is jumping at the same time, which often results in a fall. Falls are especially bad news, and they account for anywhere from a quarter to half of all injuries. When that fall affects the head or neck, very bad things can happen.
Manufacturers have responded to many safety concerns in recent years, adding padding and enclosures to their products. Enclosures are effective in reducing catastrophic injuries, so be sure to buy one for your family. Also, be sure to restrict trampoline use to only one person at a time. Otherwise, your fabulously fun trampoline may eventually bounce you, permanently.
Grills are great for cooking up scrumptious seared foods. And in the wrong hands, they're wonderful for starting fires and causing explosions. Knowing a few basics about your grill can be the difference between scorching some hot dogs or making your fingers look like wrecked wieners.
First, some fire safety basics. If you don't have the proper space for grilling, don't do it. So if you have only a cramped apartment balcony, starting a charcoal fire is a fantastic way to burn down the place in a hurry. Also, dispose of hot coals properly by letting them burn all the way down before you put them in a sturdy metal container.
Propane grills require potentially explosive gas in order to heat your burgers. Leaking or damaged tanks are problematic. You'll also run into trouble if you let too much gas fill the grill when you're trying to light it; this can mean a big boom of the worst kind.
Finally, a lot of you know how much fun it is to suck down a few alcoholic beverages while basking in the smoke from a hot grill. Overdo the brew, though, and suddenly a benign fire can become a burn hazard to the third degree.
So enjoy your grill, but do it in a smart way. You'll wind up in one piece and your food will, too.
There's nothing quite like tending to a gorgeous spread of flowers in your back yard while the warm sun gleams brightly overhead. There's nothing quite like getting a diagnosis of terminal melanoma, either. Yet in spite of the widely publicized risks of ultraviolet light exposure, millions of people wander around under our nearest star without so much as a lick of skin protection.
So maybe it's not surprising that cancer of the skin variety is the most common in the U.S. Every year, 2 million people get the scary diagnosis. In the past three decades, more people received a skin cancer diagnosis than all other cancers combined [source: Skin Cancer Foundation]. In 2013, around 10,000 people in the U.S. will die from melanoma, the most deadly kind of skin cancer, and nearly 90 percent of these cases are caused by sun exposure.
Of course, many skin cancers are also caused by willful exposure for vanity's sake, either outdoors or, (cue forehead slapping) inside tanning beds. Did you even know those were still a thing?
Avoid skin cancers by protecting yourself. Stay out of direct sun during midday, especially in the summer. Use sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 15 every day (and reapply it frequently). Wear hats with big brims and clothes that offer plenty of coverage. And whatever you do, don't allow your skin to burn. Sunburns are skin abuse, and their bright red hues are like waving a maroon surrender flag to the Grim Reaper.
Pools provide haven from summer's soul-blistering heat. But these chlorinated sanctuaries are perilous to kids, pets and adults when they're used improperly or without supervision.
Kids, especially small children, are a particularly high-risk group when it comes to pools. Many small children lack the swimming skills necessary to keep themselves safe from drowning. In 2010, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that in the U.S., more than three-quarters of all pool-related fatalities involved kids under the age of 5, and that most incidents happened at a residential pool [source: Pool Safely].
Proper supervision should be the top priority at every pool. A lifeguard or adult should always be present and aware of who is in the water. Ideally, that person will also know how to perform CPR in case of an emergency. Fences are also critical. A tall, lockable fence goes a long way toward preventing unsupervised swimming.
Teach children and adults basic swimming skills so that they can protect themselves. Anyone can learn to swim, and that understanding can literally mean the difference between life and death.
Hot tubs warm your bones on a baleful winter night. But in combination with the wrong factors, those warm waters can make for a downright dangerous stew.
Overheated hot tubs might feel wonderful for a few minutes, but once a tub exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius), you're sitting in a potential problem. In water of around 106 Fahrenheit (41 Celsius), the human body begins to lose some of its ability to regulate internal temperature, which can lead to heat stroke or unconsciousness and subsequent drowning.
Those risks escalate further if you've consumed alcohol. Booze increases the chance that you'll make poor decisions in the water, and that you may not feel the ill effects of overheating until it's too late. Whether you're drinking or not, limiting dips to around 15 minutes is the best way to minimize problems [source: APSP].
Although the small size of hot tubs makes them look suitable for small children, think again. Kids must be able to touch the bottom of the tub with their feet; otherwise drowning becomes a real possibility. Treat tubs with all the respect you give to a full-size pool to prevent tragedies.
It's tempting to let your lawn turn into a wilderness refuge, with tall grass to hide you from the rest of civilization. Alas, your neighbors are probably not thrilled with the idea of your home slipping into a sea of overgrowth -- thus, the lawnmower is a necessity.
Lawnmowers are anything but benign tools, however. In 2010, they accounted for more than a quarter of a million injuries in the U.S. alone. In extreme cases, mower-related accidents mean awful wounds that result in amputations or even death [source: WebMD].
Don't let children younger than age 12 mow the yard, and for the love of all that's precious in the universe, don't put your toddler on your lap while you're on a riding model. Keep kids, adults and pets well away from a mower that's in operation to prevent injuries from flying debris.
Wear long pants and real shoes. Shorts and sandals offer almost no buffer from danger. Wear eye protection, too. No matter how cautious you may be, lawnmowers are by nature machines of destruction, and there's no way to fully control objects that can be thrown into the air at high velocity.
Riding mowers are a lot more fun than most push mowers, but they're also susceptible to tipping over on slopes. Engage your brain on hills; a heavy tractor with whirling ninja blades on the bottom spells all sorts of trouble if you happen to tip.
Finally, take your time. Rushing through a mowing job means poor decision making and unsafe shortcuts. Give yourself time to do the job right, and your lawn will wind up tidy without anyone getting hurt.
Your backyard is supposed to be a safe and beautiful place. But sometimes, there lurk plants that stalk both people and pets in the most insidious ways.
Take oleander, for example. This plant sports gorgeous white, yellow or reddish blossoms that lend elegance to landscaping. Yet all parts of the oleander are toxic. Eat just a tiny bit of the leaves or blossoms and you can wind up dead. Small children (who always love shoving unmentionable, random items into their mouths) are especially at risk for poisoning.
But oleander is just one hazard. Other poisonous plants include castor beans, daphne, lantana, yellow jessamine and monkshood, and all of these are extremely common in backyard gardens.
It takes just a moment for a child or pet to grab and eat foliage. So before you turn Fido or Frank, Jr. loose in the backyard, be sure you know what plants are within reach. And if you can't restrict access to the plants, it may be better to remove them altogether. Your local gardening shop can help you find safe alternatives.
Visit your local hardware store and you'll see shelf after shelf of lawn and garden chemicals. These are supposed to be toxic -- they're designed to kill insect pests or control invasive plants. So perhaps it's not surprising that they can be poisonous to people and pets, too.
Homeowners are often overzealous in their applications of pesticides and herbicides. Many people apply 10 times more chemicals than farmers apply to their crops [source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]. Some people think that more chemicals mean a greener, more controlled lawn.
But improper application of chemicals has a whole range of known consequences. Small children, fetuses and even adults can suffer from exposure to pesticides through damage to brain, reproductive and other bodily systems. Just as bad, many chemicals also carry unknown risks.
The best way to avoid problems is to keep your exposure to a minimum. Don't use chemicals unless you absolutely have to, and when you do, actually take the time to read and follow the application instructions. Slopping around the yard with gallons of pesticide and no personal protection is simply asking for trouble.
Whether you live in the city or the countryside, refuse is a fact of life. Dumping your garbage in the closest spot is generally not the best idea. Food waste and other trash attract vermin of all kind -- things as small as mice, rats and insects right on up to bears looking for a tasty rotting snack.
The dangers here are myriad. Rats and mice can drag diseases into the vicinity. Larger animals are dangerous for the same reason, but they also have the added danger of size and sharp teeth; even if they don't get you, they can cause property damage galore in a furry flash.
No matter where you live, put your waste in a trash container with a solid lid that keeps animals (and children) at bay. If you do reside in an area where larger mammals like raccoons and bears will make a mess of your trash bin, you may need to take extra steps to protect your garbage from intruders, such as locking metal bins.
In doing so, you'll reduce wildlife confrontations and keep the rest of the neighborhood safer, too.
Your backyard might be a nice place for your family to relax, but it's also probably a home to all sorts of wildlife. In some geographical areas, insects and snakes are a spine-tingling danger that can result in a hospital stay or abrupt death.
Allergic reactions to stings and bites are common. For people who are really sensitive, a severe reaction can be difficult to counter alone. If someone in your home has known allergies, be sure to have a plan of action in place, such as understanding where an epinephrine injector pen is located at all times. And if someone is allergic, clear your yard of foliage that attracts stinging creatures.
The same goes for other critters. If venomous insects, spiders or snakes love your yard, figure out why. By altering the habitat just slightly, you may be able to drive off these creatures without having to kill them using chemicals and traps.
If you can't get a handle on poisonous critters in your yard, don't hesitate to call in a professional. A pro can help you understand the causes behind the problem and offer long-term strategies for reclaiming your property.
Your backyard is supposed to be a safe and fun environment. With just a bit a planning and thought, you can reduce or eliminate some of the most common hazards, lessen worry and get more joy out of your outside time.
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Author's Note: 10 Everyday Backyard Hazards and How to Fix Them
There's no need to sensationalize backyard hazards. The potentially horrifying effects of routine yard work and leisure time should be enough to keep any sensible person aware of their surroundings at all times. If you really need an example, perform an Internet search for Ireland Nugent. In 2013, two-year-old Ireland was accidentally run over by a riding lawnmower and lost both of her feet. Her parents were anything but reckless, but the accident still happened, showing just how quickly mundane chores can turn into awful reminders of just how delicate we humans really are.
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