Safety guidelines help to reduce accidents
In the time it takes to read this, a child will be severely injured and admitted to an emergency room as the result of a playground-related accident. It is estimated that more than 170,000 such injuries occur each year.
According to the National Recreation and Park Association, Arlington, Va., local recreation and park resources are used by 75 percent of the U.S. population (more than 192 million people); 71 percent of Americans live within walking distance of a park or playground. The NRPA and the National Playground Safety Institute (NPSI) — a continuing education arm of NRPA — have developed safety guidelines recognized as industry standards and identified 12 of the leading causes of injury on playgrounds. They are:
* Improper Protective Surfacing. More than 70 percent of all accidents on playgrounds result from children falling. Hard surfaces, such as concrete, blacktop, packed earth or grass are not acceptable under play equipment. The surface or ground under and around the playground equipment should be soft enough to cushion a fall. Acceptable surfacing materials include hardwood fiber/mulch, sand and pea gravel.
* Inadequate Fall Zone. A fall zone should be covered with protective surfacing material and extend a minimum of six feet in all directions from the edge of stationary play equipment. Swings require a much greater fall zone, one that extends two times the height of the pivot or swing hanger in front of and behind the swings seats, as well as six feet to the side of the support structure.
* Protrusion and Entanglement Hazards. A protrusion hazard is a component or piece of hardware that might be capable of impaling or cutting a child should the child fall against the hazard. Some protrusions may catch strings or items of clothing the child might be wearing. Special attention should be paid to the tops of slides and sliding devices. Ropes should be anchored securely at both ends and incapable of forming a loop or a noose.
* Entrapment Openings. Enclosed openings on playground equipment must be checked for head entrapment hazards. Children often enter openings feet first and attempt to slide through the opening. If the opening is not large enough, it may allow the body to pass through the opening and entrap the head. There should be no openings on playground equipment that measure between three-and-one-half inches and nine inches.
* Insufficient Equipment Spacing. Improper spacing between pieces can cause overcrowding of a play area. Fall zones for equipment should not overlap to prevent the possibility of a child falling off one structure and striking another. There should be at least 12 feet between two structures, and swings and other pieces of moving equipment should be located away from other structures.
* Trip Hazards. Exposed concrete footings, abrupt changes in surface elevations, tree roots, tree stumps and rocks are common trip hazards that should be removed in play areas.
* Lack of Supervision. A play area should be designed so it is easy for a parent or caregiver to observe children at play. Young children are constantly challenging their own abilities and are often unable to recognize potential hazards. It is estimated that more than 40 percent of all playground injuries are directly related to lack of supervision in some way.
* Age-In-appropriate Activities. It is important to make sure the equipment in the playground setting is appropriate for the age of the intended user. Areas for preschool-age children should be separate from areas intended for school-age children.
* Lack of Maintenance. There should be no missing, broken or worn out components on playground equipment. All hardware should be secure.
* Pinch, Crush, Shearing and Sharp Edge Hazards. Playground equipment should not contain sharp edges or points that could cut skin. Moving components such as suspension bridges, track rides, merry-go-rounds, seesaws and some swings should be checked to make sure there are no moving parts or mechanisms that might crush or pinch a child's finger.
* Platforms with No Guardrails. Elevated surfaces, such as platforms, ramps and bridgeways should have guardrails to prevent falls. Pre-school-age children are more at risk from falls, and equipment intended for this age group should have guardrails on elevated surfaces higher than 20 inches. Equipment intended for school-age children should have guardrails on elevated surfaces higher than 30 inches.
* Equipment Not Recommended for Public Playgrounds. Accidents associated with certain types of equipment have resulted in the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommending they not be used on public playgrounds. Swinging exercise rings and trapeze bars are considered athletic as opposed to playground equipment. Overhead hanging rings that have a short amount of chain and are intended for use as a ring trek — generally four to eight rings — are okay for public playground equipment.