Statistics show that the majority of injuries that occur as a result of falls from playground equipment happen at schools or parks. Falling off equipment accounts for 75 percent of injuries to children. While deaths related to falls are usually due to some type of head injury as a result of the fall.
More than 200,000 American children are injured on playground equipment each year. Still, many manufacturers and designers of backyard playground equipment do not comply with accepted safety standards. By taking a few steps, you can ensure that your child’s play is one of joy, not tragedy.
When buying new equipment or plans for home-built equipment, ask for written proof that what you are buying complies with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Standard F1148-93. Meeting this standard ensures that the equipment or plans have passed a set of strict safety design tests. Follow instructions or building plans exactly.
Kids’ bodies tend to be smaller than their heads, so a space big enough to let a child wriggle through may not accommodate her head. To prevent strangulation, spaces and openings should be smaller than 3½ inches or wider than 9 inches. Barriers should be low enough to keep the smallest child from going under and high enough to keep the biggest child from going over the top. Keep in mind, a young child is at risk when playing on equipment designed for older children. Closely supervise young children on any play equipment.
Put a soft surface under all play equipment, such as wood chips, mulch, or shredded rubber. Hard surfaces such as concrete, asphalt and tile are dangerous because kids often trip or fall while playing. Dirt and grass, commonly used under playground equipment, do not protect children from head injuries. For information on installing soft surfaces, call the Safe Kids Coalition at 330-543-8942.
Think about children’s play patterns when you position the equipment — for example, don’t set the slide so a child exiting at the bottom will be in the path of moving swings.
Place the equipment at least six feet in all directions away from obstructions such as fences, buildings, trees, electric wires or laundry lines. Keep as far away as possible from streets and driveways. Consider erecting a fence between the equipment and traffic.
Maintain equipment properly, following the manufacturer’s guidelines. Check often to make sure bolts are tightly anchored; cut off or cap protruding bolt ends, which can cause cuts or catch on clothing. Caps or nuts should be flush with the surface, with no gaps or spaces that could create a hook.
Inspect wood equipment for splinters and cracks. It is also a good idea to round off edges of wood with a sander. Sand it and apply a wood sealer according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Make sure hooks and chains on swings aren’t worn or too rusty.
Don’t allow a free-swinging rope on equipment or on trees. Loose ropes can form a loop or noose and strangle a child. Ropes that are securely anchored to the ground are OK, as long as they aren’t frayed; a worn rope may not support a child’s weight and may pose a strangulation hazard.
Don’t make a swing from a tire tied to a tree branch. There probably won’t be enough clearance between the swing and the tree trunk, and your child could hit the tree and injure himself.
Always supervise children on the equipment. Kids shouldn’t wear loose clothes or clothes with strings, which can catch on the equipment and cause strangulation. And never let them play on wet equipment which could be slippery and a cause of falls. Bike or sporting helmets should never be worn on a playground. They can get caught in the equipment and increase the risk of choking or strangulation.
Teach your kids to play safely. Make sure they know that walking in front of the swings or jumping off moving equipment is dangerous. Don’t allow them to tie ropes of any kind to the equipment, or to swing empty seats.
Inspect your day-care provider’s play equipment and make sure the staff supervises kids during play.
A WORD ABOUT TRAMPOLINES
Data shows that more than 93,000 children under the age of 14 were treated in U.S emergency rooms for trampoline-related injuries. Almost all of the trampolines associated with injuries were at private homes, usually in backyards.Most of the injuries occurred on full-size trampolines. The most prevalent trampoline-related hazards that result in injuries or death include:
Because of the need for supervision and trained personnel when using trampolines, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that trampolines never be used in the home environment (inside or outside), in routine physical education classes or on outdoor playgrounds. The AAP states that trampoline use should be limited to supervised training or rehabilitation programs. Even under those conditions, specific guidelines should be followed to reduce the risk of injury.
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