By Georgia Orcutt
Each year, approximately 200,000 children ages 14 and under suffer playground-related injuries serious enough to require a visit to the emergency room. Nearly half of these injuries (45 percent) occur on school playgrounds, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Nancy White, a certified playground safety inspector (CPSI) and a manufacturer’s representative of playground equipment and site amenities, believes parents, schools and communities need to know what can happen on a playground to prevent problems from arising. She offers this checklist for assessing playground safety:
√ Surface – About 70 percent of playground accidents are caused by inappropriate surfacing. It needs to be soft enough to cushion a fall, and deep enough to correspond to the height of the playground equipment. Concrete, blacktop, packed earth or grass are not acceptable. Hardwood fiber, sand, pea stone, rubber tiling or poured-in-place rubber are all better choices.
√ Room to Move – Kids should be able to run through the play area and get around the equipment with safe clearance. Swings should be set well away from trees or fences, and slides should be positioned to allow plenty of space at the bottom.
√ Hazards – Beware of sharp edges and hardware that could cut children or snag clothing strings (such as open “S” hooks on swings). Merry-go-rounds and older-style teeter-totters can crush or pinch toes or fingers. Rocks, tree stumps and roots, and exposed equipment footings are potential trip hazards. And openings in play structures should be large enough to let a child’s head and body pass through easily.
√ Railings – Since children tend to sway, push and lose their balance, guardrails and protective barriers are a must for elevated ramps, platforms and decks.
If you see a playground hazard, contact the school principal. And remember, it’s important that an adult is always keeping an eye on kids on the playground. Ask about the student-teacher ratio during recess. Approximately 40 percent of accidents result from lack of supervision.
Georgia Orcutt is associate editor at the Boston Parents Paper, a Dominion Parenting Media publication.