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Shouldn’t spaces deliberately designed for children be the safest? In many cases, that would be correct. However, a risk may not always be so obvious until an accident occurs. Parents research so many things to ensure their children’s safety – from schools and daycare centers to car seats. A playground should be one place that is completely kid-friendly. Unfortunately, every year more than 200,000 children in the U.S. have to seek treatment for playground-related injuries.

According to the Centers for Disease Control:

  • About 75% of all non-fatal playground-related injuries occur on public playgrounds, mostly at schools and daycare centers.
  • Playground-related injuries cost an estimated $1.2 billion in 1995.
  • Girls are more prone to playground-related injuries than boys (55% to 45%, respectively).
  • The most at-risk age group for playground-related injuries are children ages 5 to 9.
  • Swings are responsible for the most injuries on home playgrounds, while climbing apparatus is the most dangerous equipment on public playgrounds.
  • Playgrounds in low-income areas have more maintenance-related hazards than those in high-income neighborhoods. For example, trash, rusty play equipment, and damaged fall surfaces were found to be more common in poorer communities than in wealthy areas.

How to Check for Safe Playground Equipment

Do not assume any public or private playground is always safe. The accompanying parent or guardian should perform a simple, yet diligent inspection of the equipment and surroundings before allowing children to play.

A safe playground has protective barriers on all elevated surfaces. A playground should clearly separate equipment designed for younger children from an older age group’s equipment. Look at the equipment for signs of damage, defects, or negligent maintenance. Equipment should show no signs of damage, such as splintered wood or rusty metal. Maintenance crews should repair any loose parts, holes in fencing, and protruding sharp objects. The spacing between swings on a swing-set should be at least 24 inches wide, with at least 30 inches between the swing and the support frame. Equipment with moving parts, such as swings and merry-go-rounds, should have their own separate area on the playground. Inspect these pieces for pinch points that can cause crush injuries.

Check the ground surfaces, as a common cause of playground injury is falling to a hard surface. The ground should be covered in materials such shredded rubber, sand, wood chips, or mulch. A fall onto hard surfaces such as concrete or blacktop could result in injury. Grass and packed earth can also be dangerous, as weathering can make them unable to cushion a child’s fall. Safe ground materials should extend at least six feet beyond the equipment’s perimeter. Ensure there are no dangerous debris on the playground, such as broken glass, sharp sticks, or pieces of metal. Toys, roots, and rocks can cause children to trip and fall while playing. Spills or standing water can also cause slip and fall accidents.

How Children Can Play Safely

Keeping children safe from potential dangers on the playground means keeping an eye on them, as well as making them aware to watch for dangerous situations. While ensuring that the safety of playground equipment will mitigate the dangers they pose to children, the protection is only partial if basic safe behaviors and practices are ignored. Specifically, children should be monitored to never do the following on playgrounds:

  • play in a rough manner or push each other while on playground equipment
  • misuse equipment, such as sliding head-first down a slide, climbing guardrails, or leaping from or standing on swings
  • jump from equipment at excessive heights or if another child is in the way
  • wear necklaces, purses or clothes with drawstrings, as they pose snag and strangulation hazards
  • play outside on a sunny day without sunscreen
  • use equipment that gets very hot, such as metal slides or rubber swings
  • use equipment that is wet and slippery
  • leave items in the way where someone might fall on them, such as backpacks and bikes

Equipment That is Never Safe for Children

Different organizations have concluded that some types of playground equipment is inherently dangerous, even if functioning correctly. If you spot any of these pieces of equipment, don’t let children play on them and report it to the property owner. The following types of equipment are never safe for children:

  • Swings shaped like animals. Due to their heavy weight and size, animal-figure swings can cause serious head injuries and even death.
  • Glider swings. Glider swings capable of holding more than one child at a time are inherently dangerous for children.
  • Free-swinging ropes. Ropes can unravel, fray, or even form a noose. Children should also never tie jump ropes or other ropes to playground equipment.
  • Gymnastic-style exercise rings. These rings and trapeze bars are unsafe for children to play on without proper supervision.
  • Monkey bars. Monkey bars are a popular piece of playground equipment, but children easily fall, break bones, and injure their heads.
  • Trampolines. Children can accidentally propel themselves off of trampolines or get caught in the space between the jumping surface and the frame.

Spotting Unsafe Playground Equipment and Being Proactive

Safe playground equipment is a manufacturer’s responsibility, but diligence on the part of parents, supervisors, and property owners can help protect children. Hazardous playground equipment is a more common occurrence than many parents realize, often due to manufacturer negligence in design or assembly. If you notice any playground equipment that is damaged or inherently dangerous, report it to the owner of the property or the supervisor. Parents who spot dangerous playground equipment and respond appropriately can prevent injuries and even fatalities.