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Playgrounds - Are They Really Safe?
by Kim Green-Spangler
Playground equipment is properly maintained and serious injuries are uncommon - right? Unfortunately, that's not true. It's been a reality for over 200,000 parents and care-givers according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Approximately 76% of the injuries occur on public playground equipment, with 23% occurring on home playground equipment. Between 1990 and 2000 147 children under the age of 14 died from playground related injuries, 70% died on home playground equipment. April 24-28th is National Playground Safety week. The time to visually/physically inspect, or inquiry about the inspection of all of the playgrounds children will be playing on - at home, at school, and in the community.

Risky Business

Who's at risk on playgrounds? Typically all children under the age of fourteen are at risk, but according to an article in Ambulatory Pediatrics: Trends and patterns of playground injuries in the United States - children and adolescents, the greatest number of injuries occur in 5 - 9 year olds. Why? Parents typically closely supervise toddlers on playgrounds, and are trying to give school-aged children aged 5-9 their independence. 9-14 year olds are also more sure-footed and less apt to be rough-housing on playgrounds.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also documents that swings account for the greatest number of injuries for home playgrounds, and that climbers are the primary culprit for public playgrounds. They've also found that playground injuries are greater in poorer communities due to the high number of improperly maintained equipment.

An Ounce of Prevention

Parents should take the same precautions that school and public equipment decision-makers are expected to take. Many home playgrounds have inadequate fall protection surfaces, inadequate placement, unanchored equipment, and protrusions that can cause serious injury. In addition, when parents are supervising play on public equipment they should immediately mention improperly maintained equipment, slippery areas and excessive debris to park workers or any public officials who can correct the situation.

Playground Safety Checklist (National Playground Safety Institute)

  1. Make sure there is at least 12 inches of fall protection below all playground equipment. Acceptable surfaces include hardwood fiber/mulch, sand and pea gravel.

  2. Fall protection surfaces should extend at least six feet beyond the play equipment in all directions. For swings, the surfacing should extend at least twice the height on the bar in both the front and the rear.

  3. Play equipment that is 2 1/2 feet high or greater, should be spaced at least nine feet apart.

  4. Play equipment should be free of protrusions or devices that can entangle children. Bolts that are protruding, hooks or rungs that extend beyond equipment and ropes that are not anchored at both ends are definite no-nos.

  5. All openings on playground equipment should be smaller that 3 inches, or larger than 9 inches.

  6. Playgrounds should be free of all tripping hazards like tree roots, pipes, concrete footings, etc.

  7. Adult supervision is required at all times.

  8. Play areas are designed with specific age use in mind, the division of age appropriate play areas should be adhered to.

  9. Play equipment should be properly maintained at all times.

  10. Equipment should be inspected for sharp edges and pinching hazards.

  11. There is a list of equipment that is not recommended on public playgrounds. They are: heavy swings (such as animal figure swings) and multiple occupancy /glider swings, free swinging ropes, and exercise of equipment rings that less than four rings or greater than eight rings.

K.I.S.S. - Keep It Super S.A.F.E.

Don't trust your public parks department or your school board to keep playgrounds up to code, or to go that extra mile. Budget cuts, understaffing, and delayed maintenance schedules can all play a huge factor in the safety of your children. As your children get older make sure they know what to look for too. The National Program for Playground Safety has developed an easy tool for them to learn: The S.A.F.E. method. S stands for supervision. An adult should be around to supervise in case help is needed. A stands for age-appropriate equipment. Make sure the equipment is not too big or too small for the child. F stands for falls that are cushioned. Make sure there is fall protection material present like sand, rubber, wood chips, or pea gravel. E stands for equipment maintenance. Equipment should not be rusted, peeling, broken, or splintered.

Playgrounds are for fun. An ounce of prevention will go a long way towards keeping them fun for everyone.

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