Metal jungle gyms held together by rusty bolts.
Tall slides that burned to the touch on hot, summer days.
Merry-go-rounds anchored in a sea of black asphalt.
These are playground images that might come to mind for adults who grew up in the decades that scroll back into the 1940s, even the 1930s.
By Amy M. Kimmes
Accidents and injuries were almost a given, accepted as an inevitable part of life. Even during a span of eight years of the 21st century, more than 200,000 children were treated in emergency rooms each year for playground-related injuries.
But these times, they are a changin’ — and passively accepting that kids are destined to get hurt on a playground no longer should be the case. The jungle gyms and merry-go-rounds from yesteryear have been replaced with equipment that has been built with safety in mind.
And while injuries and accidents cannot be completely prevented, there is much one can do to help keep playgrounds as safe as possible.
Make them age-appropriate
To start, playgrounds should be built for two age groups: 2- to 5-year-olds and 5- to 12-year-olds. If both age groups will be served, the playground should be divided by a buffer zone. Think shrubs or benches.
Appropriate playgrounds for kids ages 2 to 5 include areas to crawl, low platforms, short slides and ramps with handles attached for grasping. Appropriate playgrounds for kids ages 5 to 12 include climbing pieces, horizontal bars, seesaws, sliding poles and spiral slides.
What’s on the surface counts
Falls from equipment account for more than 70 percent of playground injuries, and 80 percent of those occur at playgrounds with unsuitable surfaces. There is no such thing as a “perfect” playground surface, but there are some materials that will help reduce the risk of injury — sand, pea gravel, shredded tires, wood chips, mulch, rubber mats and poured-in-place rubber, to name a few. Asphalt, concrete, dirt and grass are not suitable surface materials for playgrounds.
Keep an eye out
Proper supervision is key at playgrounds. More than 40 percent of playground injuries at schools are related to inadequate supervision. Always have a minimum of two adult supervisors. Add one supervisor for every 20 additional children. Supervisors also can perform routine inspections on the equipment, complete simple maintenance tasks and report hazards.
Many playground injuries could have been avoided with some safety precautions.
For example, strangulation is the leading cause of playground fatalities. In many cases, drawstrings in clothing become entangled in the equipment.
The best way to avoid the hazard is to close gaps in equipment, eliminate protruding nuts and bolts and eliminate V-shaped openings where material or body parts can become stuck.
Entrapment also is a safety hazard, but can be avoided by keeping openings in equipment smaller than 3.5 inches or larger than 9 inches.
More than 30 percent of playground injuries are related to inadequate or inappropriate maintenance, so be sure to inspect equipment regularly.
Each playground should have its own comprehensive maintenance plan and designated personnel to follow it and update records. Have a plan in place for reporting a problem, a process to fix the problem, and a system to keep proper records.
Amy M. Kimmes is editor of Church Mutual Insurance Company’s Risk Reporter newsletters for religious
organizations, schools, camps and conference centers and senior living facilities.
Playground safety checklist
- Ensure surfaces around playground equipment have a minimum of 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand or pea gravel, or safety-tested rubber mats or rubber-like materials.
- Extend protective surfaces at least 6 feet in all directions from the play equipment. For swings, be sure the surface extends, in front and back, twice the height of the suspending bar.
- Space play structures that are more than 30 inches high at least 9 feet apart.
- Check for and eliminate dangerous hardware, such as “S” hooks and protruding bolt ends.
- Ensure spaces that could trap children — openings in guardrails and spaces between ladder rungs, for example — measure fewer than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches.
- Check for sharp points and edges on equipment.
- Look for tripping hazards, such as exposed concrete footings, tree stumps and rocks.
- Install guardrails on elevated surfaces — i.e., platforms and ramps — to prevent falls.
- Check equipment and surfacing regularly for proper conditions.
- Diligently supervise kids.
Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission