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Children Safe at Play

A majority of American playgrounds pose serious and even deadly threats to our children. The following are statistics about playground related injuries:

- each year approximately 211,000 preschool and elementary children received emergency department care  for injuries that occurred on playground equipment.   - boys had a slightly higher percentage of injuries (53.5%) than girls (46.5%).

- Almost 70% of all injuries occurred on public playgrounds, while 67% of deaths occurred on home playgrounds.

- Injuries to the head and  face accounted for 60% of all injuries to children ages 0-4.  Injuries to the arm and hand accounted for 43% of injuries to children ages 5-14.

- For children ages 0-4, swings had the highest incidence rates (128 per 100,000 children), followed by slides (106) and climbing equipment (64).

- for children ages 5-14, climbing equipment had the highest incidence rates (150 per 100,000 children), followed by swings (143) and slides (64).

- 17 children died each year in playground-related accidents, involving more boys (62%) than girls (38%). - Approximately 36% of the injuries were classified as severe with 3% requiring hospitalization.

- The most prevalent diagnoses were:  fractures, lacerations, contusions/abrasions, strains/sprains, and internal injuries.

- Falls to the surface was a contributing factor in 70% of all injuries.   - Most public playground injuries were associated with climbing equipment (40%), slides (22%), and swings (21%).

- The majority of injuries (71%) occurred in April through September.

How are children hurt?

A child can fall onto a surface or strikes steps, poles or other equipment.
Child collides with moving swings, merry-go-rounds or teeter-totters.
Drawstrings from hooded sweatshirt catch on a piece of playground equipment and strangle the child.
Spring rocker coils can severely pinch a child's hand or foot.
Child wearing a bicycle helmet becomes entrapped in an opening, such as a horizontal ladder, causing strangulation.
Child is burned on metal slides that become excessively hot in warm weather.

All statistics were based on data obtained from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) National Electronic Surveillance System (NEISS).  NEISS collects playground product-related data from a sample of more than 90 hospital emergency departments located throughout the US  Thus, only emergency room injuries are recorded and the national statistics are estimates. All statistics have been adjusted to reflect out-of-scope cases that were reported to NEISS.

Playground designers are reducing the number of moving parts in equipment such as swings, merry-go-rounds and rocking horses.

More important than equipment design is the playground's surface. Among the surfaces considered safe are rubber tiles or loose fill, such as properly shredded mulch or shredded rubber.  In most cases, loose-fill surfaces should be about 12 inches thick, depending on the height of the play structure.

Playground owners often make the mistake of installing a playground and then failing to maintain it.  Such surfaces as sand or bark chips, for example, need regular attention.  A building built today may not be safe in six weeks.  It requires daily, weekly and monthly inspection and care. Daily maintenance includes picking up trash, raking loose-fill surfaces to redistribute the material and wiping off standing water.  Bolts need to be checked monthly and all parts oiled, cleaned and sterilized, if necessary, annually.

Parents and caregivers can help by keeping the play areas clean and safe by reporting faulty equipment to the appropriate person.

Playground equipment is only one half of the safety equation.  Children's behavior and adult supervision make a difference in the injury rate.  A lot of parents think the playground is an outdoor baby-sitter, parents need to go with their children to the playground and supervise them.  There is a great deal of parental responsibility that goes into playground safety.  Parents should see that children are at the right place at the right time for their development, age and level of coordination.

Playground equipment is becoming much safer but improvements in children's use of the equipment could be the deciding factor to reduce the high injury rate.

Safety Tips for Kids

1. One person at a time on the slide
2. Slide sitting down and facing forward
3. Move away from the slide exit as soon as you reach the ground
4. Climb stairs or steps slowly
5. Wear proper footwear: No bare feet
6. Hold on to handrails
7. Avoid climbing or sliding on equipment support poles or beams
8. Don't stand up on swings; don't jump off swings in motion
9. Take off bicycle helmets when on the playground
10. Don't wear sweatshirts with drawstrings

Source: American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons   Only a handful of states - California, Michigan, New Jersey and Texas - have passed comprehensive playground safety laws.  The California law, which goes into effect in October  and is one of the most stringent, mandates playground inspections, upkeep and adherence to minimal safety standards.

For further information and regulations regarding playground safety, please see "playgrounds" or "outside play areas" under Licensing Standards for your state.

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