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Designing with Safety in Mind

We New Zealanders love our outdoor lifestyle and of all the changes you can make to your house, good outdoor design can make one of the most dramatic impacts for the smallest amount of your hard-earned money.

But as you sit down to plan that amazing new entranceway, or meticulously landscaped patio area, stop and think about building safety into your design first.

Each year tens of thousands of us are injured around the home. More than 40,000 were hurt in the garden alone last year.

While clever changes to the outdoor spaces and landscaping can be the most effective way of adding value to your home, this shouldn’t come at the expense of your family’s health.

Plan to build safety into your design from the outset and save time, money and hassles later on.

It could be as simple as adding sand to paint in order to provide extra grip for decks or patio areas, tying up the hose away from walkways, or providing locking cabinets in your garden shed to make it as child-proof as possible.

Think about who will be using your outdoor area. Do they have any special requirements in terms of access? If you are designing for the elderly or little children consider how easy it is to move from indoor to outdoor areas. Maybe a smooth concrete path will be better than that gorgeous stony one you were planning.

Constantly ask yourself “what do I need to do to make my space as safe as possible?”

It’s not that tricky once you get started. To help, here are some general things you might want to consider.

Children’s play areas

  • Try to make sure the main outdoor play area can be seen from your kitchen and preferably, that the kids can be prevented from running out onto the road. Consider special childproof gates that only adults can reach to open.

Swimming pools, spas and ponds

  • By law all swimming pools, spas and hot tubs have to be fully fenced to prevent unsupervised children under six from getting in to the immediate area. These requirements, outlined under the Fencing Swimming Pools Act, are very specific and carry stiff penalties if you don’t comply. You should contact your local council and get hold of the guidelines before beginning work on a pool or installing any type of pond or water feature more than 400mm deep.
  • Make sure hard surfaces around your pool stay as dry and slip-free as possible. Consider non-slip tiles or concrete and slope the surface so that water drains away from the area. Get tiles that have a minimum slip resistance coefficient of 0.4 when wet. Lots of tiles are slip resistant when dry. Only some tiles are slip resistant when wet.

Garages and sheds

Children are drawn to small buildings like magnets are to the fridge. They will find anything put anywhere in a shed unless it’s locked away or stored high enough that they can’t find a way to reach it.

Unfortunately this is often where we keep deadly poisons, sharp tools, ladders and power tools. Even if you don’t have kids of your own, consider the safety of children who may visit your home. And don’t forget about the adults too.


  • Making sure that door to the shed can be locked.
  • If the garage is going to function as a workshop and storage area for power tools and ladders or scaffoldings include lockable storage areas for dangerous tools, garden implements and chemicals.
  • Choosing a wood float concrete floor or paint the floor with a non-slip finish.
  • Ensuring good ventilation when working with paints or other solvents and don’t run the car for long periods in the garage.
  • A transformer or residual current device protecting all tools.
  • Preventing children having unsupervised access to garages or garden sheds.

Paths and paving

You don’t need to compromise on style if you plan ahead to make surfaces as safe as possible. Consider:

  • Using non-slip paint or tiles that specify a minimum slip resistance coefficient of 0.4 when wet.
  • Making sure surfaces are level and without gaps.
  • Marking any changes in level by using different materials, colours or other visual clues.
  • Keeping all steps within a flight of the same height and preferably in groups of two or more – single steps are hard to see.
  • Avoid single steps.
  • Building ramps rather than steps where the slope of the ramp can be kept below 1:12.
  • Securing handrails to ramps and stairs.

Balconies and decks

Generally, you can make a deck or balcony safer by not placing seats, planters or anything around the edge that children could climb up on. Consider:

  • Avoid placing seats at the edge of deck as they can transform the balcony into a climbing frame for children.
  • Keep decks or balconies all one level to avoid trips.
  • Apply non-stick paint or additives such as sand to provide grip.
  • One of the main causes of injuries on the deck is the slime and mould that can collect and provide a very slippery surface. Keep your deck or balcony clean of moss, slime and lichens.
  • Carry out regular inspections of bolt fixings to make sure they are not rusting or coming loose.

By law, if you are building or altering a deck that is more than one metre above the ground, you must get Building Consent and it must have a barrier that complies with the New Zealand Building Code. The code contains strict rules stipulating the height and strength of the barrier. Contact your local council before planning work to make sure your deck or balcony makes the grade.