■ Metro Service
Playgrounds provide places for children to run, laugh, play, and share experiences with their friends. Playgrounds also are instrumental in fostering social connections among children and providing places to exercise.
Although playgrounds are much safer than they used to be, that doesn’t mean children cannot get injured when playing at modern playgrounds. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says playground-related traumatic brain injuries are still a major threat, and emergency departments treat more than 20,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground injuries each year. Broken bones, abrasions and even strangulation can occur on playground structures. But many injuries can be prevented by following established safety guidelines.
The childhood safety resource Kids Health notes that adult supervision is a key component of preventing playground injuries. Adults can ensure that kids do not engage in unsafe behavior when using playground equipment. Adults also can help kids gauge distances on equipment, help them get up and down from climbing structures, and help make sure that older kids do not test limits too much. Simply having parents or other caregivers nearby can tame behavior.
Advocating for children’s safety on playgrounds means checking to see if equipment is deemed safe by various watchdog organizations. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is one of these groups. Over the last 35 years, innovations in technology have led to new playground equipment and surfacing requirements. Some safety guidelines include proper signage and labeling; sight lines that enable adults to keep track of children throughout the playground; and safe surface materials, which include engineered wood fiber, pea gravel, sand, shredded rubber mulch, wood chips, and organic mulch.
Proper maintenance can keep equipment in safe working order. Tripping hazards, such as rocks or tree stumps, should be removed from the area. Metal or wooden swing seats should be replaced with soft seats. Sharp edges should be made smooth, and all platforms should be in good repair with working guardrails. Hardware should be checked and never protrude. The cushioned surface should extend at least 6 feet beyond the equipment. Additional coverage may be needed, depending on how high a slide is or how long a swing is. Materials should be replaced if they are worn out.
Children should use only the equipment recommended for their age groups and ability levels. The CPSC says that preschool-aged children should only use ladders that are less than or equal to 60 inches high. Older children can use arch climbers or chain or cable walks. Age guidelines should be clearly posted on the equipment to help adults ensure their kids play on equipment that is right for their ages.
Enjoying fresh air and fun is part of visiting the playground. But parents should always emphasize safety when their youngsters are playing.