Noble McIntyre on September 3, 2014
We’ve been talking the past few weeks about lots of safety issues related to the new school year. In case you missed them, check out parts I, II and III of our four-part series on back to school safety. Today, we’re talking playgrounds. While we all probably have fond memories of jungle gyms and tire swings when we were kids, more than 200,000 kids are treated in emergency rooms each year for playground-related injuries. Most of these are preventable, with a combination of ensuring that the equipment is safe, and having proper supervision.
The key to minimizing playground injuries is having a surface that is soft enough and thick enough to soften the impact if a child falls. Playgrounds should not be built on concrete, asphalt, blacktop, grass, soil or packed Earth. Grass, soil and packed Earth are unsafe because weather and wear can make them be less cushioned in case of a fall.
The best surfaces are wood chips (without chromated copper arsenate), mulch, sand, pea gravel, shredded rubber or rubber-like materials. The surface of the playground should not have standing water, debris, broken glass or twisted metal.
In playgrounds at parks or schools that house children that are a range of ages, there should be areas for younger children that are separate from the older kids’ play areas. Regardless, playground equipment should be regularly checked to make sure that it is in good working order. Equipment should not be broken, cracking, splintering or rusted. The surface materials should be regularly maintained to cover all ground and fall zones around the equipment, and there should not be any objects like hardware, hooks or unfinished edges that could stick out and cut a child or tangle clothing. If you think that your child’s school or public playground has unsafe equipment or conditions, tell your local authorities.
Especially for younger children, though, there are a few lessons in “playground etiquette” that you can teach before school begins that will also help keep everyone safe:
Although having safe and well-maintained equipment is essential for any playground, there is no substitute for proper adult supervision. The adult watching your child must make sure that children are behaving safely and should know how to deal with the situation in the event that a child does get hurt. Especially with younger children, kids can’t always gauge distances and they aren’t always able to foresee a dangerous situation. As well, older children sometimes like to test their physical limits, so it’s always important for there to be plenty of adults available and paying attention.
There’s lots of evidence that outdoor free play and recess is a crucial part of every child’s development. Your kids should be having fun on the playground, but a few simple precautions will hopefully go a long way in keeping them safe.