Is Your Child's Playground Safe?
Playgrounds are all fun and games until someone gets hurt
You take your child to the playground to burn off steam and enjoy some monkey business in the fresh air. But an accident can ruin the fun faster than a trip down a slide.
Playground injuries are often more than simple scrapes and bruises. Kids can break bones even on a slide, as this story that went viral demonstrates. (The little girl was sitting on her mother’s lap, and on the way down the slide, her sneaker caught on the side and she broke her leg. Experts say you’re better off letting your child slide down alone.)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 200,000 kids ages 14 and under wind up in the emergency room after getting hurt on a playground. Some 45 percent of playground injuries are severe — fractures, concussions, dislocations and worse. The Consumer Product Safety Commission found that between 2001 and 2008, 40 children died from playground injuries.
According to Heather Olsen, executive director of the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS), parents and other caregivers “often are just not aware” of potential playground dangers.
Here are some tips for keeping kids of all ages safe.
On your mark, get safe —then go
Outfit your child for action. Sandals and flip-flops are cute, but open-toed shoes can easily trip up kids who are running and climbing. Drawstrings on hoodies and jackets are potential strangulation hazards. Remove strings or opt for pullover jackets and sweaters. Scarves and necklaces also can be dangerous. Leave them at home.
Sunscreen on! Before you and your kids even leave the house, make sure you’re prepared. If it’s a hot sunny day, slather on sunscreen even if the playground you’re heading to is shady. Getting a child to stand still for this at home will be much easier than at the playground, where she’ll be chomping at the bit to hit the jungle gym. Be sure to bring along plenty of cold water.
Helmets off! If you’re two-wheeling it to the playground, a bicycle helmetis a must while on the road. But when you get to the playground, have your kid take it off. On the playground, a child with a bike helmet can get trapped in guardrails or other places.
First aid? Check. Tuck basic first aid supplies into your diaper bag or backpack — bandages, antibacterial ointment, alcohol wipes for cleaning cuts or scrapes.
Ten-hut! Especially if the playground is large and your child is old enough to play without you standing guard by his side, consider bringing a whistle or other noisemaker for getting his attention. Be sure he knows the sound and that it means you need him to stop what he’s doing.
Eye the playground for potential danger
Even if you’re visiting a familiar playground, eyeball the area before you decide to stay and play. Some things to ask yourself:
- Does the playground look safe, well maintained and clean — free of trash, broken glass and other hazards?
- Are there barriers such as fences or hedges to keep kids from running into open parking lots or streets?
- Is any equipment obviously broken, missing parts (especially guardrails) or showing signs of wear, such as racks, splinters or other deterioration in wood, rust on metal, or cracks in plastic?
- Are all ropes secured on both ends?
Be aware of hot surfaces. Even when the air temperature isn’t all that high, some surfaces absorb and maintain heat. Metal and even black rubber safety mats have caused severe burns in kids. If you can’t touch something for more than a second or two, then it’s too hot for your child to touch or play on.
For more specific guidelines, check out the National Park and Recreations Association’s The Dirty Dozen: 12 Playground Hazards.
Play it S.A.F.E.
To help parents, babysitters and other caregivers keep kids safe on playgrounds, the NPPS developed S.A.F.E guidelines.
Supervision. A grown-up should always be on watch at a playground, says Olsen. According to the National Park and Recreation Association (NPRA), 40 percent of playground injuries happen because of lack of supervision.
If you’re in charge of very young kids, it’s especially important to stay physically close to them. Children aren’t always able to judge if a platform on climbing equipment is too high, for example. Preschoolers should never be on something more than 6 feet off the playing surface.
When you’re not sure if something is too high, here’s a simple guideline: If you have to lift up a child to reach a piece of equipment, it’s probably not safe. One obvious exception: bucket swings. A baby or toddler won’t be able to climb into one on his own. Note that a child should have good head control and be able to sit up on his own before trying a bucket swing, a milestone most babies reach around 9 months, according to SafeKids Worldwide.
Age-appropriateness. Safe playgrounds should be divided into distinct areas that feature equipment designed specifically for kids in three age groups: 6 to 23 months, 2 to 5 years and 5 to 12 years. It’s vital to keep a toddler out of the big kid’s area — a 2-year-old could easily fall off a swing designed for a 12-year-old. It’s just as important to steer older children away from areas designated for babies and tots. A 10-year-old could be tempted to climb onto a too-small piece of equipment and topple off. Older children aren’t likely to be careful of little ones either.
Fall-surfacing. According to a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) study of playground injuries that required a trip to the emergency room for preschoolers and elementary school students,nearly 44 percent were cause by falls.
“The surfacing under and around playground equipment is one of the most important factors in reducing the likelihood of life-threatening head injuries,” according to the CPSC’s Public Playground Safety Handbook. “A fall onto a shock-absorbing surface is less likely to cause a serious head injury than a fall onto a hard surface. However, some injuries from falls, including broken limbs, may occur no matter what playground surfacing material is used.”
Safe playground surfaces include rubber mats, rubber tiles or other energy-absorbing materials held in place by a binder, and loose, energy-absorbing materials like shredded or recycled rubber mulch, wood mulch or wood chips. Grass may seem like a “greener” choice, both literally and in terms of the environmental, but even the lushest carpet of grass won’t cushion a little noggin from the hard ground underneath.
Playground surfaces should also be slip-resistant. This is especially important for babies who are just learning to walk.
Equipment maintenance. Twenty-three percent of playground injures treated in emergency rooms are caused by faulty equipment, reports the CPSC. This includes broken parts, unstable items that tip over and design or assembly flaws.
If you and your child find yourselves on a playground that’s clearly not safe, leave. There’s bound to be more than one set of monkey bars in town. A trip to the playground should be all about fun and games, not tears — or tragedy.