Now that our kids are back at school, they will no doubt be spending time on the playground during recess. Since it is not yet cold, many of us will still be taking our kids to playgrounds at any number of local parks. While playgrounds are fun for our kids, there are some things that we, as parents, should do to make sure our children are safe while playing on them. Many preventable injuries occur on playgrounds every day, often while the children are under our supervision. In addition to making sure your children are using the equipment as intended, we can all do our part to be on the lookout for dangerous conditions which might exist.
The Extent of the Problem
The U.S. Consumer Protection Safety Commission reports that each year more than 200,000 children, ages 14 and younger, go to hospital emergency rooms with playground-related injuries. About 45% of playground-related injuries are severe fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, and amputations. About 75% of nonfatal injuries related to playground equipment occur on public playgrounds, with most occurring at schools and daycare centers. According to Safe Kids Worldwide (a global organization dedicated to preventing injuries in children), your child is 9 times more likely to suffer from an unintentional injury at school than be a victim of violence.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that children ages 5 – 9 have higher rates of emergency department visits for playground injuries than any other age group. While all children are at risk for injury if they use playgrounds, girls sustain injuries more than boys (55% v. 45%), but males account for a larger percentage of deaths resulting from the playground. According to the USCPSC, most of the injuries occur when children fall from the equipment onto the ground. On public playgrounds, equipment that involves climbing is involved in more injuries than any other type of equipment. Further, 90% of the most severe playground injuries are due to falls. Many playsets are placed on dirt or grass-surfaces that do not protect children when they fall.
This problem is not a new one. As long as ago as 1995, playground-related injuries among children ages 14 and younger cost an estimated $1.2 billion dollars. Most recently, Safe Kids Worldwide reports that school-related medical costs for children age 14 and under account for more than $2 billion in medical spending each year. The total annual cost of school-related injuries to children ages 14 and under exceeds $74 billion, which includes medical spending, loss in quality of life and future earnings.
Given the extent of playground injuries, the serious nature of injuries which occur, and the costs associated, playground safety needs to be a priority and steps need to be taken to reduce the risk to our children.
There are numerous things that parents, teachers, school administrators, city parks and recreation departments, and others can do to ensure our children play safely. The following is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but serves as some important tips on what to watch for the next time you are at your child’s playground:
- Playground equipment is designed for different age groups and should be used accordingly.
- Equipment under four feet tall is suitable for children under 5, while equipment under eight feet tall is suitable for those ages 5 – 12.
- Never leave children unsupervised.
- To better absorb shocks from falls, make sure 12 inches of loose fill such as wood chips, pea gravel, shredded tires, double shredded bark mulch, fine gravel, or sand completely covers the playground floor.
- Make sure any “S” hooks that are used are closed as much as possible and that anything a child may become caught on is removed to eliminate the threat of strangulation.
- A bar should be present at the top of a slide so that children will have to sit before going down.
- Make sure guardrails surround elevated platforms.
- Maintain playground equipment.
- Hoods and draw strings can get caught on equipment. Remove them before children are allowed to play.
What Can Be Done?
Nobody wants a child to get hurt. Fortunately, there are numerous resources to turn to for assistance in making sure the playgrounds our children go to are safe to use. The United State Consumer Product Safety Commission has numerous checklists which can be printed off and taken with you the next time you go to a playground with your children. See, http://www.cpsc.gov/Safety-Education/Safety-Guides/Sports-Fitness-and-Recreation/Playground-Safety/. There are safety guides and checklists for public playgrounds, outdoor wooden structures, and home playgrounds. There are also safety handbooks which are free to download regarding outdoor home playground safety and public playground safety. See, http://www.cpsc.gov//PageFiles/122146/324.pdf, and http://www.cpsc.gov//PageFiles/122149/325.pdf.
If you believe the playground at your local park presents a danger or hazard to the children playing on it, bring it to someone’s attention in the city or municipality government (or their parks and recreation departments). If the safety concerns you have involve playground equipment at school, notify the school administrators or local board of education. If your voice is not heard than enlist the help of your school’s PTA. Because nobody wants a child to get hurt and because playground injuries to children have such a significant financial impact, you’ll find most people are receptive to your concerns and ways to address them. Share with them the checklists and handbooks referenced above to be able to show them how their equipment is potentially dangerous.
Playgrounds can be safe and fun if we all stay alert. If children are taught to use the equipment properly, many injuries can be avoided. Most of the safety steps which can be taken involve supervision of the children while playing, inspection of the equipment for potential hazards, and proper construction and maintenance of a playground. Even with proper supervision and equipment, all risks cannot be eliminated. For instance, even with safe equipment, safe surroundings, and use of the equipment as intended, children may still accidentally knock each other down or off of the equipment. However if everyone is alert and responsible, our children are taught the safe manner of using playground equipment, and a focus is paid towards protecting the most vulnerable amongst us, the harm to children can be kept to a minimum.
If you or your child is injured in an accident on a playground that was caused by another party, please feel free to contact our office for a FREE case consultation.
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