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How to Tell If Playground Equipment is Safe
Playground safety is a national problem in the United States. According to the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 200,000 children 14 years of age and younger visit emergency rooms nationwide annually due to playground injuries. Approximately 56 percent of those injuries are cuts, contusions or fractures. Others are more serious injuries, such as concussions. Traumatic brain injuries received on playgrounds are related to swings or climbing equipment in approximately 66 percent of cases.
If you are a parent, you likely enjoy watching your child play. However, you may also be concerned about his or her safety, especially at the playground. It is important to assess playground equipment before allowing your child to play on it. Even if he or she is playing under other adult supervision, such as at school or playgroups, you can feel more secure about his or her safety when you check the playground equipment yourself. Below are some ways to tell if playground equipment is safe for your child.
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Tip #1: Assess the Surface of the Playground
Start your playground equipment safety check by assessing the surface material under the equipment. If your child does have a playground accident, it is likely to be a fall according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Therefore, it is important to have a shock-absorbing surface on which he or she can land.
There must also be drainage to prevent water from collecting on the surface and reducing shock absorbency. Some surfaces look appropriate but are not safe. For example, grass and dirt are soft, but their properties can change due to weather or wear.
Safe playground surface materials come in two categories. The first is unitary surface materials. Unitary surface materials are solid surfaces known for absorbing shocks. Tiles and rubber mats are common unitary surface materials. Other unitary surface materials are synthetic, often rubber-like materials. These materials must be poured and cured for some time to form cohesive and safe playground surfaces.
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Many playgrounds have loose-fill surfacing materials. They create semi-solid surfaces using small components. Several of them are approved for use by the CPSC and are as safe as unitary surface materials. Among the loose-fill surfacing materials approved by the CPSC are:
- Pea gravel.
Tip #2: Check Playground Equipment Spacing and Surroundings
When assessing a playground to make sure it is safe for your child, consider the spacing of the equipment. The CPSC recommends at least nine feet of space between playground structures over 30 inches tall. Leaving spaces between equipment is essential so, if your child does fall, he or she cannot hit other equipment while falling.
Do not allow your child to play if there are obstructions between playground equipment, such as trash barrels. If there is a fence or wall within six feet of a swing, it is also unsafe. If any equipment includes ramps or platforms, you must also make sure handrails or walls are in place to minimize fall risks.
When checking equipment spacing, you must also make sure the surface material used on the playground extends well beyond the edges of the play equipment. This way, if your child falls, he or she can only fall on the shock-absorbing surface. You may need additional resources to keep your child safe.
For most play equipment, the CPSC recommends the surface area extend at least six feet out from the edges of the equipment. However, for a swing to be surrounded by an appropriate amount of surface material the material must extend a distance of at least double the height of the swing apparatus in the front and back.
Tip #3: Make Sure Playground Equipment is in Good Condition
Even if playground equipment is safely positioned, the equipment itself may be in failing condition causing a safety hazard. It is important to check the area wherever your child plays, whether at home, school or at farmer’s markets.
For example, if the equipment is rusty or has peeling paint, your child cannot safely play on it, especially if he or she is young. He or she may try to eat the peeling paint or rust chips, which is not safe under any circumstances. The rust or peeling paint may contain lead, making it extra hazardous. Other signs of safety hazards to look for include the following:
- Nails and bolts may cause injury or catch on clothing
- Other protruding sharp objects or splintered wood
- Open “S” hooks
- Missing pieces
- Unsafe modifications to playground equipment, such as ropes
While checking the condition of the equipment, you must also make sure it is properly designed for your child. If he or she is younger than two years of age, playing on any apparatus over three feet tall is unsafe. If he or she is between two and five years of age, equipment up to five feet tall is considered safe.
However, the equipment must not have any holes in which his or her head can get stuck. Any holes between three-and-a-half and nine inches wide are a hazard. For example, cargo net webbing must have a smaller mesh diameter than three-and-a-half inches to be safe.
Tip #4: Check for Potential Hazards Specific to Certain Types of Playground Equipment
Certain types of playground equipment come with extra potential hazards of which you must be cognizant. For example, a swing set must be anchored well in the surface material of the playground. Otherwise, its legs can loosen during play causing it to rock or tip.
If swings are too close together, they may also be hazardous because your child can bump into another child while swinging or the swings can become entangled. There must be at least two feet between each swing and no more than two standard swings per section. To be safe, a tire swing must always be positioned by itself with a lot of clearance on all sides.
Slides also present several potential safety hazards. When assessing slides, check the materials used to make them. Metal gets hot quickly and can be a burn hazard, so plastic is preferred. However, even plastic can get hot, so slides in shady areas are safest.
Another sign the slide is safe is the presence of an obstruction at the top preventing your child from standing while sliding. For example, the slide may have a hood or guardrail he or she cannot fit under without sitting.
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