Playing It Safe: 4 Steps to Playground Safety
1. Check Ground Surfaces
According to the National Safety Council, 200,000 children visit the emergency room each year due to playground injuries. Approximately 79 percent of injuries are due to falls so it's essential to check ground surfaces.
Areas under swings, monkey bars and other playground equipment should be at least six-feet wide and 12-inches deep with soft material that won't harm children if they fall. Good playgrounds use bark mulch, wood fibers, sand, wood chips, shredded tires and rubber mats to make sure surfaces are cushioned.
Avoid surfaces made up of grass, dirt or concrete. A fall on these surfaces may result in scrapes, bruises or broken bones requiring pediatric emergency care. It's also prudent for parents to ask groundskeepers about surface maintenance schedules.
2. Check Spaces Between and On Equipment
PlaygroundSafety.org says "There is no nationally coordinated effort" to ensure playgrounds are safe. One concern is the distance between playground equipment.
Many play areas are overstuffed with equipment when the spaces between them should be at least nine feet apart.
In addition, parents should look for wide openings on play equipment in guardrails and ladder rungs. These spaces should be less than three and one-half inches and no more than nine inches to prevent falls or children becoming trapped while playing.
3. Inspect Swing Sets
Swings are a favorite for most children but again, it's best to check them for sturdiness in structure as well as the ground surface.
The surface under swing sets is best if it extends twice the height of the suspending bar in both the back and the front. A fall from a swing to a hard surface might require immediate care from an urgent clinic so be sure to check the areas beneath and around swings. These surfaces should also utilize cushioned elements to sway injuries.
4. Check for "Nature" Hazards
Many playgrounds designs include natural elements like trees and foliage and some are near lakes and rivers.
Before allowing children to play, make sure these natural elements won't cause harmful injuries. Things to look for include:
- Large sticks or twigs that cause trips or falls.
- Fences surrounding the playground should have rails children can't crawl through. They should also be tall enough and difficult to climb — smooth, taller fences are best.
- Rocks and boulders with uneven surfaces or sharp edges can cause cuts or scrapes.
- Water leaking into the playground may cause mold to grow or be a breeding ground for insects.
- Untrimmed trees that hang too close to play equipment. Children may be tempted to grab the limbs and attempt to climb trees.
Many communities and neighborhoods desire playgrounds and parks.
Parents can ensure safer play if the time is taken to inspect areas in the
playground before children engage in activity. Above all, if you see playground dangers, report it to the proper authorities.