August 3, 2004
Playground safety begins with adult intervention, proper equipment usage
By Jim Albritton
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—As children return to school this fall, Methodist Rehabilitation Center urges parents and educators to think first about playground safety.
“Because many playgrounds are unsafe, parents and school educators need to be more involved in playground supervision,” said Dr. Rahul Vohra, medical director at Methodist Rehab. “Always check the area for hazards and keep children in close proximity.”
Many children spend a lot of time on the playground meeting friends, exploring and staying active, says Lauren Fairburn, coordinator of Think First, Methodist Rehab’s statewide injury prevention program. Supervisors need to anticipate and prevent dangerous situations.
“Do not let children play on equipment too large for them,” said Fairburn. “Playgrounds should have play equipment for small children ages 2 to 5-years-old that is low to the ground with areas to crawl and shorter slides.”
Because over 40 percent of injuries that occur on playgrounds are related to climbing equipment, the National Safety Council recommends that children under age 4 should not climb. Older children have more strength and are able to handle horizontal bars, seesaws and taller slides.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that over 200,000 playground- related injuries occur each year that require emergency rooms visits. In addition, nearly 17 deaths occur on playgrounds each year. Of those, 70 percent happen on home playgrounds due to strangulation.
Fairburn says parents can help avoid such injuries by conducting a thorough safety check of areas where their children play. She recommends first looking at the materials underfoot.
“Seventy percent of playground injuries are the result of falls causing fractures, dislocations and concussions,” Dr. Vohra said. “That is why it is so important to have a shock-absorbing surface such as pea gravel or sand in the playground area.”
Swings can be another hazard, said Fairburn, especially if their seats are made of wood or metal. “We recommend that play areas include soft swing seats and that the swings are placed away from other playground equipment,” she said. “You should also make sure you use full-bucket seats for young children and allow only two swings in each supporting framework, at least 24 inches apart.”
Fairburn says that well maintained and safe playgrounds are a wonderful place for children to explore and learn.
“Playgrounds can aid in positive emotional development when used appropriately,” said Fairburn. “Children learn how to interact socially with other children and it helps them develop creativity and problem-solving techniques.”
To ensure those discoveries are made in the safest of environments, the Think First team encourages schools and parents to observe the following playground guidelines:
- Always provide playground supervision.
- Make sure children do not wear clothing with loose strings.
- Inspect the playground area for sticks, glass and other potential hazards.
- Allow children to play only on age-appropriate equipment.
- Look for exposed concrete footings or rocks that could trip children.
- Inspect surface areas to ensure adequate cushioning for falls.
- Inspect all equipment for loose screws, bolts, protruding nails or rusted surfaces and make sure all equipment is secured in the ground and sturdy.
- Make sure guardrails surround all elevated platforms and are at least 29 inches high for preschool-age children and 38 inches high for school-age children.
- Have a first aid kit with emergency supplies nearby.