Playgrounds are magnets for children. They give them a chance to run around outdoors, interact with others their age, explore and extend the abilities of their developing bodies while having fun. Adults too, appreciate the opportunity to visit with like-minded grownups while their children play in a safe setting.
Unfortunately, many playgrounds are not as safe as they should be. Each year, about 250,000 children under the age of 15 require hospital treatment for playground injuries, ranging from bad cuts and bruises to broken bones and head injuries, according to statistics gathered through the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has begun a campaign to foster better playground design and the safer use of playground equipment. In a pamphlet called "Play it Safe," the academy outlines the problem areas and suggests improvements that could make playground fun far less likely to result in pain or permanent injury.
Sources of Trouble
Four factors contribute to playground problems: the surfaces under the equipment; the design and arrangement of the equipment; how well the equipment is installed and maintained; and, how children use the equipment. While play by young children should never be unsupervised, if playgrounds are well designed and maintained they can make the job of the adult much easier.
A look at where and how children get hurt at playgrounds suggests the most important areas for immediate improvement. The national survey, conducted under the auspices of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, showed that in 1991, hospital treatment was required by more than 31,000 children under the age of 5 who were injured by swings, nearly 25,000 who were hurt on slides and nearly 13,500 who were injured on monkey bars. For children ages 5 to 15, injuries requiring hospital treatment that occurred on swings and monkey bars each exceeded 60,000, and on slides they exceeded 26,000.
The commission has found that in nearly 60% of cases children were hurt falling to the playground surface; 14% of the injuries were caused by falls that resulted in being struck by equipment; 18.5% were caused by impact with moving or stationary equipment; and nearly 7% resulted from contact with sharp points or edges, pinch points or protrusions on the equipment.
"Because falls are the most common type of playground accident, there should be special attention to preventing falls and lessening their severity," the orthopedics academy said. "Children fall because they slip, lose their grip or lose their balance while playing on monkey bars, swings, slides, merry-go-rounds and see-saws. Often they are hurt not only by the fall but by being struck by the equipment as they fall."
A Better Design
Most of the accidents involve "old fashioned" playgrounds with metal swings and monkey bars,asphalt or concrete surfaces and play areas that preschoolers might share with pre-teen children. An overwhelming majority of public and private playgrounds in the United States are of the older type, and many of their features are accidents waiting to happen.
The more modern and considerably safer playgrounds, with cushioned mats and other soft surfaces, wooden jungle gyms and soft swings seats, are still few and far between in America. But even in modern playgrounds, close attention to design and location of equipment can make a considerable difference in safety.
Surface. For children, at least, falling is an inherent part of rough-and-tumble play. The harder the surface a child lands on, the more likely a severe injury. Surfaces should be soft; the orthopedics academy recommends rubber mats or loose fill like wood mulch or chips, shredded tires, sand or fine gravel. Rubber mats at the bottom of slides and under swings and gymnastics bars are especially important. Not recommended for playground surfaces are soil or grass which can become compacted by wear and tear and weather and lose their shock absorbing ability.
Equipment. All equipment should be firmly anchored with devices set below the surface to prevent tripping over them. Swing seats should be made of lightweight, impact absorbing materials like plastic or rubber and sized so that only one child at a time can sit on them. Bucket-type seats should be used for toddlers. The hangers at the top of the swing should be spaced slightly wider than the seat to reduce side-to-side motion.
Slides should not have more than a 30° incline and the platform should be as wide as the slide and at least 22" deep and connect directly to the slide. All elevated platforms should have guardrails, 20" to 30" high for preschoolers and 30" to 48" high for older children.
Spaces between steps and rungs should be large enough to prevent a child's head from getting trapped; greater than 9" for preschoolers and 12" for older children. Handrails should have diameters from 1" to 1 2/3".
Design. The best playgrounds provide separate play areas for equipment for very young and older children. Sight lines should be clear to allow adequate supervision and to give small children an unobstructed view as they move from one area to another.
There should be enough space for children to enter and leave equipment without colliding with other children. The playground should be separated from street and roadways by fences, shrubs and other barriers.
Maintenance. Ideally, when equipment is damaged, it should be repaired or replaced immediately. If this is not possible, it should be removed until it is serviced.
There should be no loose, damaged or missing supports, anchors or footings; no loose or missing nuts, bolts or protective caps; no broken or missing rails, steps, rungs or seats; no deformed hooks, shackles, rings or links; no bent, warped , rusted or broken parts; no sharp edges or points; no worn bearings, swing hangers or chains; no exposed mechanisms that could pinch or crush fingers; no splinters or deteriorated wood; no cracks or holes in the surfacing material; no trash in the area; and no environmental hazards like roots, rocks or puddles.
In addition, all moving parts that require lubrication should be serviced regularly.
These recommendations from the Consumer Products Safety Commission are guidelines, not legally enforceable regulations, so it is up to the playground designers, school and park authorities and parents to see to it that playgrounds maximize children's chances for pleasure and minimize their risk or injury.
this article courtesy of The World Playground, Park & Recreation Products and Services Web Directory