Next week is National Playground Safety week. We should all celebrate by finding our favorite playground and going out to play.
Of course, then I have to scare you. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 200,000 children a year are treated for playground injuries and about 20,000 of those have some sort of traumatic brain injury. I should also tell you that between 2001 and 2008 the Consumer Product Safety investigated 40 deaths on the playground, 68 percent from strangulation and 15 percent from falls.
OK, now that those scary statistics are out there, know this: Doctors want your children to go to the playground and play. They also don’t want you being overly cautious and not letting your child move within a foot of your presence.
We talked with Dr. Carla Laos, medical director of the pediatric emergency department at St. David’s Children’s Hospital, about how to be safe on the playground.
She offered some basic precautions:
Inspect the playground
Does the equipment look well-maintained? Do you see any splinters, cracks or screws or metal pieces that stick out?Is there anything that could pinch, grab or trap a child?
What is the surface beneath the playground? Look for playgrounds with soft materials below them such as wood chips or recycled tires.
Are their handrails on the slides?
Is the equipment age appropriate?
Look around and see if you see any signage that might indicate an age range? Or if there are two different playgrounds, make sure you choose the one that is the right size for your child?
Who else is playing on this equipment? Are there a ton of big kids playing where your toddler is? Perhaps you need to find somewhere else to play.
Is your child using the equipment properly?
Kids like to climb and they like to climb on top of things that weren’t designed from that, swing from things high up and get creative with how they use the equipment. Watch to make sure they are using the equipment as it was intended.
How high is too high?
In general a good rule of thumb is no more than twice your child’s height. It’s a long way down and a damaging distance when landing on the head, neck or spine.
Watch your child
That will help you see if he or she is using equipment improperly or going too high. It also might help if your child should fall. You would at least know which areas your child landed on. You can even join in and play with your child, but be careful. Children aren’t the only ones who get hurt on playgrounds.
Set ground rules before they start playing
Remind them how to use equipment. Remind them which area of the playground they are allowed to be in.
What happens if your child gets hurt?
Check for responsiveness.
Are they not alert? Are they not breathing? Are they blue? Have they vomited or had a seizure? Are they incoherent?
If the answer is yes to an of that, you need to call 911.
Are there parts of their body that hurt? Look at limbs, areas where organs are, the head and neck. When it doubt, go get it checked out.
Even if they seem fine at first, check on them throughout the day. Do their conversations make sense? Have they since vomited or had a seizure? Are they complaining of anything besides a scrape or bruise? Are they unusually sleepy? Call your doctor. Your child might have a head injury.
Don’t forget these things:
Hydration. It’s hot in Texas. Have water handy and make sure they are drinking it.
A basic first aid kit with bandaids, antiseptic, insect sting cream, the Epi Pen or Benadryl.
A charged cellphone and the number to your doctor’s after-hours care.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has this list of Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to playground safety, which applies to public and private playgrounds:
- The playground should have safety-tested mats or loose-fill materials (shredded rubber, sand, wood chips, or bark) maintained to a depth of at least 9 inches (6 inches for shredded rubber). The protective surface should be installed at least 6 feet (more for swings and slides) in all directions from the equipment.
- Equipment should be carefully maintained. Open “S” hooks or protruding bolt ends can be hazardous.
- Swing seats should be made of soft materials such as rubber, plastic or canvas.
- Make sure children cannot reach any moving parts that might pinch or trap any body part.
- Never attach—or allow children to attach—ropes, jump ropes, leashes, or similar items to play equipment; children can strangle on these. If you see something tied to the playground, remove it or call the playground operator to remove it.
- Make sure your children remove helmets and anything looped around their necks.
- Metal, rubber and plastic products can get very hot in the summer, especially under direct sun.
- Make sure slides are cool to prevent children’s legs from getting burned.
- Do not allow children to play barefoot on the playground.
- Parents should supervise children on play equipment to make sure they are safe.
- Parents should never purchase a home trampoline or allow children to use a home trampoline because of the risk of serious injury even when supervised.
- Surrounding trampoline netting offers a false sense of security and does not prevent many trampoline-related injuries. Most injuries happen on the trampoline, not from falling off.
- If children are jumping on a trampoline, they should be supervised by a responsible adult, and only one child should be on the trampoline at a time; 75% of trampoline injuries occur when more than one person is jumping at a time.
- Homeowners should verify that their insurance policies cover trampoline-related claims. Coverage is highly variable and a rider may need to be obtained.
It also breaks it down by equipment piece:
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the equipment the right size? For example, smaller swings are for smaller children and can break if larger children use them.
- Is the play equipment installed correctly and according to the manufacturer’s directions?
- Can children reach any moving parts that might pinch or trap any body part?
- What’s underneath the equipment? The best way to prevent serious injuries is to have a surface that will absorb impact when children land on it. This is especially needed under and around swings, slides, and climbing equipment.
- Is wooden play equipment free of splinters and nails or screws that stick out?
- Platforms higher than 30 inches above the ground intended for use by school-aged children should have guardrails or barriers to prevent falls.
- Vertical and horizontal spaces should be less than 3½ inches wide or more than 9 inches wide. This is to keep a small child’s head from getting trapped.
- Rungs, stairs, and steps should be evenly spaced.
- Round rungs to be gripped by young hands should be about 1 to 1½ inches in diameter.
- Slides should be placed in the shade or away from the sun. Metal slides can get very hot from the sun and burn a child’s hands and legs. Plastic slides are better because they do not get as hot, but they should still be checked before using.
- Slides should have a platform with rails at the top for children to hold. There should be a guardrail, hood, or other device at the top of the slide that requires the child to sit when going down the slide. Open slides should have sides at least 4 inches high.
- Make sure there are no rocks, glass, sticks, toys, debris, or other children at the base of a slide. These could get in the way of a child landing safely. The cleared area in front of the slide should extend a distance equal to the height of the slide platform, with a minimum of 6 feet and a maximum of 8 feet cleared.
- Swings should be clear of other equipment. Make sure there is a distance in front of and behind a swing that is twice the height of the suspending bar.
- Swing seats should be made of soft materials such as rubber, plastic, or canvas.
- Make sure open or “S” hooks on swing chains are closed to form a figure 8.
- Walls or fences should be located at least 6 feet from either side of a swing structure.
- Swing sets should be securely anchored according to the manufacturer’s instructions to prevent tipping. Anchors should be buried deep enough so that children can’t trip or fall over them.
- Swings should not be too close together. There should be at least 24 inches between swings and no more than 2 seat swings (or 1 tire swing) in the same section of the structure.