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What Parents Should Know About Playground Safety

by Martha Simmonds

Playgrounds can be a lot of fun and pretty scary places for parents. There are more than 200,000 playground injuries that occur each year. Emergency departments often see relatively high volumes of visits because children hurt themselves on playgrounds and similar equipment.

Playground injuries can be mild or severe. For example, lacerations, broken or dislocated bones, and internal damage can occur in more severe cases.

Falls make up around 90% of severe injuries related to playgrounds.

The following are things all parents should know about playground safety.

The Risks

Some playgrounds have platforms that can put children at heights five feet or more above the ground. A small child can be severely injured if they fall from this type of height.

Many playgrounds are also made of metal components, which can lead to fractured or broken bones, as well as joint dislocation. For example, if your child gets their hand caught between two pieces of metal, it can create a significant injury.

Strangulation can also occur on playgrounds.

For example, ropes, jump ropes, and loose clothing create the risk of strangulation.

  • Children can fall on the playground because they lose their grip, slip or lose their balance. In many cases, it’s not the fall itself that hurts a child. It’s being hit by equipment during a fall.
  • Kids will often fall on a hand they have stretched out and then break bones involving their elbow.
  • There is a relationship between tibia fractures and kids going down slides on adults’ laps. The tibia is the shinbone.
  • Less common are injuries from seesaws and teeter-totters.

Check Out the Playground

Before you let your child loose on a playground, you should inspect it for safety. Old equipment is most likely to be unsafe. Keep the following in mind:

  • You should avoid playgrounds with surfaces that don’t absorb impact, like concrete, grass, dirt, gravel, or asphalt. Surface materials considered safer include shredded rubber, sand, mulch and wood chips. Rubber mats and synthetic turf can also soften a fall if it does occur.
  • Surfacing should have a depth of at least 12 inches and should extend for a minimum of six feet around all directions of the equipment.
  • For swings, the surface should be at least 20 feet beyond the set height.
  • If you’re concerned about the playground at your child’s school or daycare, talk to the administration and make sure they maintain it properly. If you think you see hazards, report them right away.
  • Your kids should play only on equipment that’s age-appropriate. There should be signage letting you know who the space is appropriate for. Kids under five should be in a separate play area from older kids.
  • Look for any hazards like broken or rusty equipment.
  • Protruding bolt ends and open S-hooks can be dangerous.
  • Openings in guardrails and other spaces that could trap a child should be less than 3 ½ inches apart or more than nine inches.

Be Mindful of Your Child’s Clothing

If you’re going to a playground, your child shouldn’t wear clothes that have drawstrings. These strings can get caught on equipment, increasing the risk of strangulation.

Kids shouldn’t wear long scarves, ponchos, or necklaces to play, and they should take their bike helmet off beforehand because it can get trapped in an opening.

Safety Rules to Teach Your Kids

Your kids should be aware of the following when it comes to being on playground equipment:

  • Kids shouldn’t ever roughhouse or push on any equipment.
  • Teach your child to check and make sure there aren’t other kids in the way if they’re going to jump from equipment or slide.
  • All backpacks, bikes, and other gear should be left far from playground equipment.
  • Your kids should sit in a swing, rather than kneeling or standing, and they should only be on it one at a time.
  • Children should learn to check that the bottom of a slide is clear before going down. Once they get to the bottom, they should move away from the end so other kids can come down.

You should always carefully supervise your kids on the playground, even as they get older. You should monitor your child’s behavior and enforce safety rules. If you have concerns about whether or not this is happening on the playground at school, talk to your child’s teacher or the administrative staff to ensure it’s a priority.

If you have relatives or childcare providers who take your kids to the playground, they need to know best practices for safety too.

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