Playgrounds are a great place to let your children play outside, especially if you have energetic, active children. However, safety is a major concern at playgrounds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that each year, more than 200,000 children aged 14 and younger are treated in emergency rooms for playground-related injuries. Additionally, approximately 45% of those injuries were severe, including fractures, dislocations, amputations, concussions, and internal injuries.
Parents and caregivers need to make sure that playgrounds meet recommended safety standards before allowing children to use them, and must also ensure that the equipment is being used in the way it was intended to reduce the risk of injuries.
Parents and caregivers should take the following precautions before allowing children to play on a playground.
1. Do not use a playground with a hard surface.
Playgrounds built upon hard surfaces like asphalt or concrete are a safety hazard because those surfaces are not shock-absorbing and therefore carry a higher risk of severe injuries. While surfaces like soil, packed dirt, grass, and turf can be better shock absorbers, they are also not recommended because they can be affected by weather conditions. Soft surfaces like wood mulch or chips, shredded tires, or sand are the best surfaces for playgrounds.
2. Children need to take turns.
Only one child should be on a swing or slide at a time. Other children should keep away from the bottom of the slide and any swings in use to avoid accidental collisions. Once a child has gotten off a slide or swing, he or she should move away from the area so that the next child can go.
3. Make sure the equipment is being used correctly.
Children sometimes use the playground equipment in ways that were not intended by the manufacturer, which can increase the chance of an injury. Therefore, it is important that an adult is present to make sure the equipment is being used properly. For example, children should never slide head-first or climb over guardrails. Also, children should not climb or slide down any support poles or beams, and should not exit a swing or merry-go-round until it has come to a complete stop.
4. Look out for possible safety hazards.
Parents and caregivers should inspect the playground for safety hazards before children are allowed to use it. For example, wet equipment should be avoided because it increases the likelihood that a child will slip. Swing seats should be made of rubber or plastic, rather than wood or metal. There should be no tripping hazards, such as tree stumps, concrete footings, or rocks. Handrails and guardrails should be present, and should be at a height and size that a child can easily grasp. Also be sure that the equipment does not have any openings that could cause a child to get stuck, and check for signs of disrepair and deterioration, including rust, corrosion, loose parts, rotting, and weathering.
5. Make sure children are using age-appropriate equipment.
Playground equipment intended for smaller children should be separate from equipment intended for older kids. The guard rails and overhead rungs on equipment intended for older children may be too high up or far apart for small children to reach. In general, overhead rungs should be spaced between 9 and 12 inches apart for preschool-age children, and a maximum of 15 inches apart for older children. The lower part of the guardrail should begin no higher than 23 inches above the platform for preschoolers and 28 inches for older children; the upper part of the guardrail should be no higher than 29 inches for preschoolers and 38 inches for older children.
For more specific guidelines on public playground equipment requirements, parents and caregivers can consult the Public Playground Safety Handbook issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Any playgrounds that do not meet the standards of the CPSC should be avoided.
The playground should be a place where children can go to have fun. Follow the safety precautions so playtime doesn’t result in an injury.