Backyard playground equipment should be a fun and safe place to play, but if you are like most people, you buy the pre-packaged kit from the local store, put it together and hope for the best. There are things you can do to make your play area not only fun, but safe. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that there are more than 200,000 injuries each year associated with playground equipment. About 80% of these injuries occur when children fall from playground equipment. Let's look at some of the factors that can prevent many of these injuries.
It may come as a shock to some, but playground equipment can't supervise children. Adults need to be present and paying attention when children are on the equipment. Make sure you recognize areas such as crawl spaces and tunnels for potential supervision problems. The National Program for Playground Safety uses the "ABC" method. ANTICIPATE problems or hazards. BEHAVIOR means being alert and attentive. Despite the CONTEXT of the play area, adults should be present. Also, take into consideration that play areas may not be age appropriate for all age groups. Play areas are developmentally different for ages 6 months-23 months, 2-5 years and 5-12 years.
When choosing a site for your playground, pick a location away from roads, driveways, buildings and any other hazards including things such as low tree branches. The play area should provide a shock-absorbing protective surfacing material underneath and at least six feet beyond the perimeter. Concrete, asphalt, blacktop, grass, soil or earth packed surfaces are not recommended. Appropriate surfaces include wood chips, mulch, sand, pea gravel or nontoxic shredded rubber. A minimum depth of 9-12 inches is recommended and remember that the material will compress over time.
The rules for the equipment are ASSEMBLE according to the manufacturers instructions, ANCHOR to prevent it from tipping and MAINTAIN by periodically checking over the equipment. Check the nuts and bolts for tightness, fix broken parts, check for cracks, deformities, or rust, and look for gaps that may cause clothing and drawstrings to get caught and cause strangulation. Hanging cords of any kind also are a strangulation hazard. Never attach any kind of loop forming material such as rope, chains, belts, etc.
Eliminate openings in the equipment that may trap a child's head or neck. Openings should be smaller than three-and-a-half inches to prevent entry of a child's body or larger than nine inches allowing a child's head and body to slide completely through. Do not allow children to wear bike helmets on play sets because they do not allow a child's head to pass through openings.
Falls are the single largest cause of visits to hospital emergency rooms for playground related injuries. Help safeguard children against falls by providing handrails, guardrails and making sure rungs, steps and stairs are evenly spaced and have continuous handrails on both sides. Guardrails or barriers are needed around any platform over 30 inches above the protective surface. Children should use the equipment as intended to prevent falls and unintentional injuries. Please promote playground etiquette by only allowing the appropriate number of children in or on each play area and by helping kids take turns.
Further information can be found at www.playgroundsafety.org or www.cpsc.gov. The Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook can be found at www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/324.pdf. This handbook also includes an outdoor home playground safety checklist. Enjoy the rest of the summer!