Preventing Playground Injuries
In a sadly ironic twist, more than 200,000 children ages 14 years and younger visit U.S. emergency departments each year as a result of accidents that occur at destinations intended for fun: playgrounds at home, at school and in public areas.
Doctors at Texas Children's Hospital emphasize there are more measures parents and caregivers can take to increase the odds of a healthy recreational experience for youngsters, from the playground's initial design to its everyday use.
Planning Your Playground
"Once the playground is isolated from nearby streets, an efficient layout is essential," says Dr. Paul Sirbaugh, an emergency medicine services physician at Texas Children's Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas. "Some areas will naturally be more popular than others, and should be separated to avoid congestion. It's safer if active play zones are set apart from calmer spots. Because user age is also a consideration, areas for older children need to be placed away from areas with younger kids."
Dr. Sirbaugh recommends careful selection of play components in a pattern that provides ample space to enter and exit the equipment. "Avoid any equipment or accessory made with angles or openings that could trap or squeeze any part of a child's body," he says. "Install guardrails on elevated platforms, and select sturdy hand grips that are specifically designed for use by children."
Once playground equipment is assembled and installed according to the manufacturer's directions, regular inspection and maintenance are critical. "A seemingly minor glitch such as a missing bolt, rusted hinge, worn chain or rotten beam can signal an accident waiting to happen," Dr. Sirbaugh says. "Likewise, careless litter – cans, glass or wires – can cause or compound an injury. The same is true of environmental nuisances such as exposed roots, loose rocks or standing puddles."
Because falling is a contributing factor to about 70 percent of playground injuries, Dr. Sirbaugh says supple surfaces, such as wood chips or sand, are optimum and should be refreshed as needed. "Hard surfaces with no 'give,' such as asphalt and concrete, are dangerous," he says. "Soil, grass and dirt may look attractive, but their cushioning qualities will diminish with time and weather."
When dressing kids for a playground outing, Dr. Sirbaugh advises parents to look for loose strings or bulky closures that can become entangled in play equipment.
Finally, Dr. Sirbaugh believes playgrounds should feature another safety standard. "The presence of a conscientious adult offers extra insurance against mishaps," he says. "An alert grownup may not only prevent an accident, but can also encourage fair play and cooperation."
Playground Injury Facts
- As a result of accidents on playgrounds at home, at school and in public areas, more than 200,000 children ages 14 years and younger visit U.S. emergency departments each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Youngsters in the 5- to 9-year-old age bracket have the highest rate for playground injuries. School is the site for the majority of these injuries.
- On public playgrounds, climbers facilitate more injuries than any other attraction.
- Swings are responsible for most injuries on home playgrounds.
Playground Injury Prevention Measures
- Isolate playground from nearby streets.
- Pay attention to layout. Separate busy areas with popular attractions from calmer play zones. Place areas for older kids away from areas with younger children. Arrange play components in a pattern that provides ample space for entering and exiting equipment.
- Assemble and install equipment according to manufacturer's directions. Avoid components or accessories with angles or openings that could trap or squeeze any part of a child's body. Install guardrails on elevated platforms and select sturdy handgrips that are designed specifically for use by kids.
- Be certain that inspection and maintenance occur regularly. Eliminate careless litter or environmental hazards that can cause or compound an injury.
- Do not use a hard ground surface such as asphalt or concrete. Incorporate cushioned materials such as wood chips or sand. Refresh as needed.
- When selecting children's clothes, watch for loose strings or bulky closures that can become entangled in play equipment.
- Insist on conscientious adult supervision.