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5 tips to avoid a "staycation" disaster

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Summer is vacation season, but the shaky economy has many families opting to enjoy "staycations," a trend that exploded in popularity during the Great Recession. In fact, a recent Harris poll found that 82 percent of American families with children at home have a backyard vacation planned this year.

While the family backyard isn't as expensive as a trip to an exotic beach, a staycation-gone-wrong could end up costing you more than you bargained for.

"Sometimes we forget about the potential dangers in the areas or surroundings where we are most comfortable, like our own backyards," said Elaine Baisden, Vice President of Travelers Personal Insurance. "Every year, accidents occur. It's important that homeowners follow specific safety procedures and perform proper maintenance on all backyard attractions."

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If you don't want to ruin your staycation with a fast trip to the emergency room, check out these tips for staying safe this summer:

The pool. You won't have to worry about rip currents or sharks like you would in the ocean, but a swimming pool poses dangers of its own. According to the Insurance Information Institute, each year some 43,000 people are injured in or around swimming pools, and more than 600 people drown in home or public pools.

To keep your family and guests safe, make sure they know how to swim before you let them try any cannonballs. It sounds like a no-brainer, but many people just assume their guests can swim. Don't let anyone swim alone, and keep adequate lifesaving equipment near the pool. This includes a throwing rope with lifesaving rings and a pole with rescue hooks. This seems obvious, but it's easy to overlook.

Finally, keep all CD players, radios and electrical devices on dry surfaces to limit the danger of someone getting electrocuted.

The grill. Falling "debris" isn't the only thing you need to worry about when cooking out with friends and family. The grill can be one of the most dangerous aspects of a staycation if you're not careful.

Be sure to keep children away from the grill, both while you're cooking and once you've finished. The grill will remain hot long after you've turned it off, and kids may not realize that until it's too late. Keep the barbeque on a level surface away from the house, garage and landscaping to reduce the risk of fire.

Protect yourself with an apron and an oven mitt that fits over your forearm and always use utensils when grilling. And if you're using a charcoal grill, be sure to soak the coals with water before throwing them away. And, make sure to check the pool for glass bottles or cans that could cut and injure an unsuspecting swimmer.

Avoid injury by coming up with a set of rules for the trampoline.

The trampoline. Trampolines are simple toys, but they provide hours of fun for kids -- and sometimes, adults. Unfortunately, if used improperly they can also be extremely dangerous. In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that in 2010, there were over 92,000 hospital emergency room injuries associated with trampolines.

To avoid injury, come up with a set of rules before allowing kids on the trampoline. Limit the number of people allowed on at a time, and make sure an adult is around to supervise children while they play. It's also a good idea to install a safety net around the trampoline to keep kids from falling off and onto the ground.

The swing set. A backyard swing set is a lot cheaper than a trip to a theme park, but costs can skyrocket if your child or one of their friends gets hurt. Normal wear and tear can cause damage, so it's important to check the play set before allowing kids to climb around.

Wooden structures can rot over the winter, so be sure to check for signs of decay. Bolts can rust and should be replaced when necessary. Make sure the swing set is on level ground and surrounded by woodchips to cushion the inevitable falls. Young children should be supervised at all times.

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The fire pit. Fire pits are tons of fun on summer nights, but can pose serious hazards if used improperly. Avoid setting a fire in severely dry or windy conditions. Fire spreads fast, and dry brush and wind can quickly turn a small, controlled fire into a wildfire.

Never allow kids around a fire alone, and don't allow them to set one by themselves -- no matter how much they beg. Always make sure someone is keeping an eye on the flames, and be sure to completely extinguish the fire at the end of the night by throwing sand on top of the embers.

If someone is hurt on your property, call 911 and make sure the injured person gets proper medical attention immediately. After that's taken care of, call your insurance carrier or agent to notify them of the accident and they will advise you of next steps.

"It's important to review your insurance information regularly to make sure you have the right amount of coverage, especially if you added a new backyard attraction or plan on entertaining friends and family at your home this summer," Baisden reminds homeowners. "A standard homeowners insurance policy offers liability coverage, but you may want to consider umbrella insurance for an added layer of protection for your assets -- and your peace of mind."

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