Back-to-School: Safety on the playground

(Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Knowledge Universe)

(Consumer Reports)--Playgrounds sure aren’t what they used to be. Gone are the high, wooden-seat swings, merry-go-rounds, and teeter-totters that I played on when I was a kid. We’ve learned a lot about playground safety since then. I’m not sure they’re as much fun, but fortunately, most kids--mine included--don’t know the difference. 

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J ust 11 days ago, a 9-year-old Oklahoma girl was fatally injured while playing on a new piece of play equipment at a school playground. Playground deaths are tragic, and they’re not as rare as one might think. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s most recent research (PDF download) on playground injuries and deaths says that from January 1990 through August 2000, at least 147 children under age 15 died in accidents involving playground equipment. The majority (56 percent) died from hanging after being caught up by ropes, shoestrings, cords, sashes, and leashes.

The CPSC also reports an average of about 200,000 children treated each year in hospital emergency rooms for injuries sustained on the playground. About 45 percent of the injuries happen on school playgrounds: the most common location for playground injuries. Most of the injuries are caused from falls, particularly from climbing equipment.

Accidents will happen and kids will get hurt; it’s just a part of being a kid.  But we strive to reduce the number and severity of serious injuries. Your school’s playground should meet the latest safety standards set by ASTM-International. You can audit the safety of the playground yourself, or encourage your school administrators to do it, by using the CPSC’s Public Playground Safety Handbook (PDF download).It’s full of guidelines that should be followed to keep your little ones as safe as possible.Most important, in our opinion, is to make sure there is adequate soft surfacing under and around the play equipment to absorb the shock from falls. And it’s critical that adults make sure  that children don’t wear garments with drawstrings that can get hung up.

  Here are some general playground safety tips from the CPSC:

Always make sure children are supervised on play equipment.
New playground equipment should meet the latest safety standards for public playgrounds
Maintain at least 9 inches (preferably 12 inches) of protective surfacing, including shredded/recycled rubber, wood chips, wood mulch (non-CCA treated), sand or pea gravel under and around playground equipment to cushion children from falls.
Check that protective surfacing extends at least 6 feet in all directions from play equipment. For swings, extend protective surfacing in front and back of the swing, twice the height of the suspending bar.
Repair sharp points or edges on equipment. Replace missing hardware and close “S” hooks that can cause injuries.
Never attach ropes, jump ropes, clotheslines, pet leashes or cords of any kind to play equipment; they are a strangulation hazard.
For more on playground safety, check these blog posts on too hot-playgrounds, protective surfaces, and playing it safe.

—Don Mays

See our previous posts on school safety. Next up: School sports safety.