Michael at Richard Burbridge has kindly offered some advice on planning decks and terraces with safety and children in mind:

In recent years decking has become one of the most popular additions that UK gardeners have sought to install.

The provision of a nice area to relax, have a drink or do some barbequing is attractive and current figures suggest that one in five of us have at some point undertaken a decking installation project.

However, if you fail to plan your project effectively it is likely that you could end up with decking that is not child safe. Here we offer useful tips on how to avoid such an outcome.

1. Getting the spindles right

One of the most common causes of injury involving children and decking is due to the fact that spindles have been placed too far apart. This can result in the child either falling through the rails, or becoming trapped between them.

Where the decking is raised there is the chance of the child falling a long way and children stuck between the spindles run the risk of suffocation. You can avoid the risk of either of these occurrences happening by ensuring that spindles are spaced no more than 99mm apart.

Also, be sure to avoid spindles that run horizontally (ie ranch style); as they could provide a ladder for children to climb up and over the decking rail.

2. Adding gates

If you have raised-decking then, it is likely you’ll have some stairs leading from it down to the rest of your garden area. At some point your child will reach an age where you trust them enough to be able to negotiate the stairs on their own. However, until they reach that point the unprotected stairs offer the opportunity of injury sustained through falling.

The safest option is to either make or purchase the required number of gates that can be attached to the decking balustrade. Be sure to fit childproof latches to gates to keep your child safely in the decking area.

3. Safeguarding the base

In many instances, decking is built on uneven garden surfaces, or has to be placed on stilts so that the decking is level with French doors. The base area underneath the decking floor presents a space that your child is sure to want to explore if it is left unprotected.

Your first option here is to add decking boards or other suitable wooden sheets and stain it to match the decking. This has the additional advantage of preventing pests, making a nest under your decking.

The second option is to fit some trellis to fill in the gaps underneath the decking. If you are concerned pests may try to make a home under the structure then you may want to consider attaching some chicken wire to the trellis to prevent access. Going down the trellis route leaves you with the option of training climbing plants and creepers to it to add to the aesthetic appeal.

4. Smoothing things over

Usually the finish of decking products will be pretty smooth. However, there is always the chance of splinters when working with timber and especially so when you are cutting pieces to fit. Therefore, once you have finished installing your decking it is advisable to spend a little time smoothing off any rough edges or surfaces with some sandpaper.

5. Handrail Height

Ensure the handrail is at a minimum of 900mm from the deck level for ground level decking. If your decking is above 600mm off the ground then the handrail should be set at 1100mm to reduce the risk of falling over the top.

6. Furniture placement

Whilst our last tip doesn’t specifically relate to the installation of decking; it is one that we can’t leave out. It is imperative that you always place any patio furniture as far away from the edges of your decking as is possible. Children love to climb and if your furniture is close to the edge there is always the risk that they will attempt to use it to get over the decking rail.