Children are encouraged to play outdoors to exert physical effort and promote health. Few things are more exciting to young children than the opportunity to swing and scale playground obstacles. But what if the outdoor play equipment poses significant safety risks?
Playground injuries have become a considerable concern for parents and caregivers across the country. According to the organization Safe Kids U.S.A., it is estimated nearly 220,000 children ages 14 and under were treated in emergency rooms for injuries associated with playground equipment in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available. From 2001 to 2008, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission investigated 40 deaths that were believed to be linked to playground equipment. The average victim's age was six years old. Of the fatalities, 68 percent were the result of hanging or asphyxiation.
No one wants to prevent children from having fun, but it is essential to child safety playgrounds be well-maintained to ensure playtime does not end in injury. Improperly maintained equipment coupled with ineffective shock-absorbing surface material can increase a child's risk of injury. The CPSC says the equipment associated with the most injuries include climbers (monkey bars), swings, slides and overhead ladders. Fractures remain the most common playground injury, followed by contusions and abrasions.
To keep children safe, there are certain precautions that should be taken whenever children are allowed to use playground equipment. It is up to adults, including parents and guardians, to ensure that play areas are safe and to use their judgement to restrict play if unsafe conditions are present. Here is a checklist for adults, courtesy of the National Program for Playground Safety.
* Always be sure adults are there to supervise. Adult supervision is needed wherever children are playing. In school settings, where there are a number of children out at recess, there should be an ample ratio of adults to children. Adults can observe potential hazards and intercede if children are misbehaving. Playgrounds that have rope activities should be avoided, as should putting children in clothing that has string ties.
* All children should play on age-appropriate equipment. Due to developmental differences as children age, it is essential children play on equipment that correlates to their age groups to keep play safe and fun.
* Make sure surfaces are cushioned. Falls account for an array of playground injuries. Acceptable cushioned surfaces can help prevent more serious injuries from falls. Materials that can be used include pea gravel, sand, rubber mats, rubber tiles, and mulch.
* Make sure equipment is safe. Equipment should be inspected regularly to ensure that everything is in good working order. S-hooks on swings and other hanging items should be entirely closed, and there should be no protruding bolts. Footings and steps should be in good working order. Equipment also should be safely anchored in the ground. If any safety hazards arise, the equipment should not be used until it is fixed.
In addition to the information provided by NPPS, the National Recreation and Park Association has conducted their own playground safety initiative, identifying 12 of the most common playground hazards and how to avoid them in their report, "The Dirty Dozen." Inadequate use zones and entrapment in openings are just two of the hazards identified by the NRPA. Individuals can download an NRPA brochure by visiting www.nrpa.org/Professional-Development/Certification/CPSI/The-Dirty-Dozen/. Schools and other organizations can purchase the brochures for use in lesson plans by visiting the NRPA store.
Children also need to be on the lookout for unsafe conditions. Parents and teachers can gear lessons around playground safety. By making safety a priority, children can continue to enjoy outdoor play without being injured.