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Safety at the Park

How To Prevent Playground Injuries

Is there anything more precious than watching a child play at a park? There's something about moving from slide to swing to sandbox that fills children with joy, and seeing them have fun is a great feeling. But those positive feelings can turn ugly if children fall off a piece of equipment or otherwise hurt themselves on the playground. And it happens more often than you might think.

In fact, more than 200,000 children ages 14 years and younger visit U.S. emergency departments each year as a result of accidents occurring at playgrounds at home, at school and in public areas, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

But there are positive steps parents and caregivers can take to increase the odds of a safe experience for kids. Dr. Paul Sirbaugh, an emergency medicine services physician at Texas Children's Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, says parents should choose a playground that is isolated from nearby streets, with an efficient layout. "It's safer if active play zones are set apart from calmer spots," he says. "Because user age is also a consideration, areas for older children need to be placed away from areas with younger kids."

Dr. Sirbaugh notes that parents should avoid any equipment or accessory made with angles or openings that could trap or squeeze any part of a child's body. Look for guardrails on elevated platforms and sturdy hand grips.

Because falling from climbers is a contributing factor to about 70 percent of playground injuries, Dr. Sirbaugh says supple surfaces, such as wood chips or sand, are optimum. "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." At home, swings are responsible for most injuries.

When dressing kids for a day at the park, Dr. Sirbaugh advises parents to avoid loose strings or bulky closures that can become tangled in play equipment.

Perhaps the best advice is to pay attention to your child at all times. "An alert grownup may not only prevent an accident, but can also encourage fair play and cooperation," Dr. Sirbaugh says.

Better yet, get out there and play with your child! Both of you will have fun, and fitness will be a side benefit.

Keeping Your Child Safe

Keep your eyes open around babies and toddlers! A recent study in the journal Pediatrics shows that there is a correlation between type of injury and the age of a child. By studying data on injuries and deaths obtained from California hospital records, the researchers were able to determine a leading cause of injury for each three-month period, from newborn to 3 years of age.

From 3 to 5 months, battering is the leading cause of injury. Falls from furniture topped the list for babies 6 to 8 months old. Children 12 to 17 months old are most often victims of hot liquid and vapor injuries. And pedestrian injuries - while walking near motor vehicles - are the leading cause of injury for kids 36 to 47 months old.

Overall, medication poisoning is the highest cause of injury for babies and children younger than 3 (and is highest for those that are between 18 and 35 months).

This study examined child injury differently than studies in the past because it separated the injuries into age-related development stages. By doing this, say the researchers, the data should be more useful to caregivers and pediatricians in developing injury-prevention strategies for each age group.

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