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Play it Safe: Avoid Injuries at the Playground
For kids, few places compare to a playground for outdoor fun. But that fun can quickly sour and turn into a hospital visit. Every year, over 200,000 children aged 14 and under are seen in emergency departments for playground-related injuries. Knowing the dangers before you go can help prevent injuries and keep kids safe.
Make sure your child is dressed for a safe day of play. Closed-toe shoes are a must for safe playground fun. Necklaces and clothes with cords, hoods, or scarves should be left at home, as they could get caught on playground equipment and pose a strangulation hazard.
Before children begin playing, take a look up
Any elevated surfaces should be surrounded by guardrails so that children cannot fall. Also consider the height of the elevated surfaces. Fall-related injuries are more common if a child falls from a surface five feet or higher.
One of the most important features of a playground is actually what’s below your feet. The entire play area should be loosely filled with cushioning materials such as mulch, wood chips, sand, pea gravel, or rubber. If a child were to fall, these surfaces would provide more cushioning than a harder surface like asphalt, grass, or concrete. Make sure that the cushioning materials extend at least six feet beyond the playground equipment, especially around slides and swings. The most optimal surface will be at least 12 inches deep. If the playground is built on tar or concrete, find a new, safer playground with a softer surface.
…and all around
Not all playgrounds are in safe condition. Check for exposed nails and screws, splintered wood, cracked plastic, or sharp edges on playground items. Don’t risk it if the playground looks dated and unstable.
Remember the “SAFE” model:
One of the most important ways to keep kids safe is to ensure that they’re properly supervised by an adult. Lack of supervision has been tied to 40 percent of playground injuries. If the layout of the playground or the design of its equipment prevents you from seeing your child at all times, it may not be the safest place for them to play.
Playgrounds are not a “one size fits all” design. Playgrounds should have designated play areas for children 6-23 months, 2-5 years old, and 5-12 years old to ensure that each age group is playing with equipment that’s safe for them. If certain equipment isn’t the right size, establish a “play zone” with your child to emphasize which equipment is safe.
Falls make up 75 percent of playground injuries. Be sure the surface is made of shock-absorbing materials. Are there hazards that could cause your child to trip, such as tree branches, rocks, or puddles? Is there trash or broken glass on the ground that could hurt your child? Is the playground properly fenced in and away from traffic? If you see potential dangers that you cannot remove, it may be wise to find another place to play.
All equipment should be made of a durable material that can safely support children and has not been damaged by weather. Metal equipment should be free of rust or corrosion and wooden equipment should not show any signs of breaking or splintering.
- Metal slides can get very hot and possibly burn a child. Make sure they face away from the sun.
- Slides should have a rail or hood to help children stay secure while going down.
- There should be a minimum of six feet of clearance at the bottom of the slide.
- Check that “S” hooks are closed to form a figure 8.
- There should be at least 24 inches between swings on the same structure.
Climbing platforms and structures:
- Platforms higher than 30 inches should have guardrails and barriers.
- All spaces and gaps between materials or structures should be fewer than three and a half inches wide or more than nine inches wide to avoid getting stuck.
Finally, talk to your child about playing safely. Even if the playground passes your safety inspection with flying colors, children can still get injured while playing. Teach children how to use equipment properly – holding on to swings with both hands, going down the slide feet-first, and not using equipment that looks broken or damaged. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen and keep kids well hydrated while playing!
For more playground safety information and tips, check out these resources:
Dina Burstein, MD, MPH, CPSTI, FAAP
Dr. Dina Burstein is a physician researcher and the community outreach coordinator for the Injury Prevention Center at Rhode Island and Hasbro Children's hospitals. She is also Chair of the National Child Passenger Safety Board, and coordinator for Safe Kids Rhode Island.