Back To School: Playground Safety

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Millions of children will be returning to school this month and, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 200,000 of them will visit a hospital emergency room because of an injury suffered on a playground. As parents, you should not only discuss playground safety and behavior with your child, you should inspect the playgrounds at your child’s school and local park to make certain that they are designed and maintained to help prevent injuries. Here are some important things to look for:

Nearly 80 percent of playground injuries are caused by falls to the ground, so improper surfacing is the first thing parents should look for when inspecting a playground. Playgrounds surfaced with concrete, grass, or dirt are too hard. Wood chips, mulch, wood fibers, sand, pea gravel, shredded tires, and rubber mats do a better job of cushioning falls. The surface material should be at least a foot deep and 6 inches around each piece of playground equipment.

Most fall injuries result from falls off of climbing equipment or horizontal ladders. So in addition to making sure the surface under such equipment is safe, you should check that steps and handrails are in good condition and that there is a barrier surrounding raised platforms. Climbing ropes should be secured at both the top and bottom. Children under 4 should not play on this kind of equipment and, because the number of injuries caused by monkey bars is so large, experts now recommend that they be removed from all playgrounds.

Swings are the most likely pieces of moving equipment to cause injury. They should have soft seats, not metal or wood, and animal swings should not be used. Swings should be set far enough away from other equipment that children won’t be hit when the swing is in motion. With regard to other types of moving equipment, seesaws should be spring-loaded and not chain-adjustable. They should have something like a tire under the seats to prevent the seat from hitting the ground. Merry-go-rounds should have handgrips and the rotating platform should be level, with adequate clearance and no sharp edges.

For more information and to find out about standards for public playground safety, check out the National Safety Council’s website.