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Keeping Your Playground Safe

Playgrounds can be a fun environment for children to get exercise and practice social skills. However, poorly designed playground structures can severely injure children and put an end to an otherwise delightful experience.

Aging playground equipment can be particularly hazardous because it was constructed at a time where quality research on playground safety was very limited. Regardless of the equipment itself, a playground safety surface can often make the difference between minor scrapes and hospitalization.

Around 79 percent of all playground accidents are from children falling off equipment, which is why building a safe play environment should start with a safe, soft surface.

The following seven playground structures are potentially harmful and should either be avoided or used with caution.

1. Climbers
Climbers are commonplace on modern playgrounds as a part of combination structures or free-standing equipment. Because climbers involve children climbing off the ground, there’s an associated falling risk. Installing a safe playground surface under the climber structure can help make falling-related injuries less severe.

Climbing structures with horizontal ladders, also known as "Monkey Bars,” are a potential playground hazard because children can fall from a high distance and injure themselves when landing. According to a Consumer Product Safety Commission report, horizontal ladders are responsible for around 60 percent of all climber-related injuries. Children may lose their grip and slip off horizontal ladders in normal use, or fall off the top when using the structure improperly.

As for other climbers, ladders with spacing with 3.5 and 9-inches of open area between rungs are also an entrapment hazard. Any sort of protruding bolt on the climber structure itself is an injury risk. Bolts that feature a nut or pad at the end creates a hook that is a strangulation risk, as well.

2. Structures with Ropes and Cords
Any sort of combination structure that features ropes and cords that can be pulled into a loop is a strangulation hazard. Rope climbers can be particularly hazardous because they don’t provide a stable means of support, making it easy for children to slip off. Rope netting can also be an entrapment hazard when the space between net openings is between 17 and 28 inches wide.

3. Heavy and Multiple Occupant Swings
Swings built for two are better served as swings built for zero. Large swings that feature heavy decorative features and swings that support multiple occupants can produce a substantial amount of force that can cause severe injuries to both occupants and passersby.

4. Trampolines
While not found on your typical public playground, trampolines often appear in residential play areas. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends not using trampolines in playgrounds altogether. The equipment presents a falling hazard from substantial heights onto unsafe surfaces and can mangle children that get caught in the springs.

5. Metal Slides
Metal slides are circumstantially dangerous when exposed to direct sunlight. The metal can get so hot that a child that touches the slide with bare skin can get burned. These slides should only be used in shaded areas or when the outside temperature and sun exposure levels are too low to heat up the equipment.

6. Merry-Go-Rounds
Merry-Go-Rounds are a potential playground hazard when children get on and off the equipment while it’s in motion. This is particularly problematic for younger children with weaker motor control. Additionally, children may get dizzy when riding on this structure at high speeds, which can lead to tripping and falling when they get off.

7. See-Saws
See-saws present potential hazards including possible fulcrum crushing and falling. See-saws can avoid a crushing situation by placing padding or a cushioning device under the ends, while falling injuries can be lessened by placing the structure on a safe surface. Fulcrum see-saws are not safe for small children; instead, use a spring-based version.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 200,000 children under the age of 14 suffer injuries on the playground each year. The range of these injuries can be devastating – the CDC reports that 45% of playground-related injuries are severe injuries that include fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, and amputations.

Here are four things you can do to prevent playground accidents.

1. Check the surface on the playground.
According to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries in children. One recommendation from the group is to have safer surfaces instead of dirt and grass under playground equipment. The Consumer Product Safety Commission strongly advises against putting equipment on cement or asphalt without a safety surface.

2. Check the equipment on the playground and keep it well-maintained.
Equipment that isn’t properly maintained can be extremely dangerous. The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) recommends having a routine equipment maintenance checklist based on the manufacturer’s recommendations and CPSC guidelines.

Key items such as checking to be sure there are no openings from 3.5”-9” where a child’s head or body trappings could occur. There can be no open areas at the top of the slides where strings could get caught and cause strangulation. There can be no more than two swings in a support structure.

Other maintenance is also required such as checking and making sure that the equipment hasn’t rusted, and that there are no missing or damaged pieces. For example, if bolts meant to keep the equipment firmly attached to the ground go missing, the safety of every child that plays on it becomes compromised.

3. Check the temperature.
As the weather gets warmer, playground equipment can become extremely hot, and even cause burns. Slides that are made of metal (though not recommended by the CPSC) are still in existence in many older playgrounds. If shade structures do not protect the slide from the sun, the metal areas of the slide can become extremely hot and even cause burns on the skin.

Parents and caregivers should always check for hot surfaces on playground equipment before allowing children to play on it. Likewise, the playground surfaces that are not covered by shade can become very hot, as well. Some surfaces such as sand and pea gravel can actually absorb and retain the heat, making them 5 to 10 degrees hotter in the summer months.

According to the CSPC, exposed concrete and asphalt around the playground area can become very hot, as well. The CPSC also stresses that it doesn’t have to be extremely hot for burns to occur – there have been reported cases of burns that occurred in 74-degree weather.

4. Beware of choking and strangulation hazards.
Playground equipment with nets may seem safer because they provide kids a softer place to land – but cargo nets can be dangerous if the openings are too big. Again from the CPSC, nets with a perimeter opening between 17 and 28 inches could pose hazards for kids. These nets are often found on indoor playground environments. The openings should be too small for a child’s body to go through, but big enough for their head to fit.

Wearing bike helmets on the playground may also pose a strangulation hazard. In 1999, the CPSC issued a warning against wearing bike helmets on playgrounds when a 3-year-old Pennsylvania boy died from strangulation after his bike helmet became wedged as he tried to get through a small opening in the playground equipment. Instead, providing softer surfaces can help to prevent head injuries from falls without the possible strangulation hazards nets and helmets can pose.

This information is courtesy of No Fault Sport Group, www.nofault.com.

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