Playgrounds provide a perfect way to have free fun with your kids. Away from the distractions of home and office you and your kids can exercise, have some laughs, and maybe meet some new friends, without spending a penny.
Yet those good times can turn bad quickly; every year 200,000 American children are treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained at playgrounds.
Reduce your kids’ risks of being among them by doing a quick inspection each time you go to a playground. “One of the best ways to do this is to use the equipment with your kids,” suggests Nikki Fleming, spokesperson for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). “When you get down on your kids’ level you notice things you wouldn’t see otherwise.
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Here’s what to look for:
A soft surface
About three-quarters of all injuries at playgrounds are due to falls from equipment. The best protection? A shock-absorbent ground surface that “gives,” such as rubber matting or 12 inches of wood chips, bark mulch, sand or pea gravel that extends at least six feet in all directions from play equipment. It should also be at least twice the height of the suspending bar for swings—thus, if the top of the swing set is 10 feet high, the surface should extend 20 feet around it.
There should be only two swings for each supporting framework, and they should be at least two feet apart. Preschoolers should use only full bucket seats, and older kids should have soft seats—no wood or metal.
They should be anchored solidly into the ground, have firm handrails, and good traction on the ladder steps. There should be no gaps between the slide platform and the slide itself, and a bar at the top of the slide, so children have to sit before they go down, according to National Safety Council (NSC). Hot day? Beware of metal slides that can get too hot on sunny days and burn children’s skin.
Climbing equipment is great for helping kids build upper body strength, but it’s also involved in about 40 percent of all playground injuries, according to the NSC. Old-fashioned “monkey bars” are now considered too dangerous for inclusion in playgrounds for all kids; for children under 4, no climbing equipment or horizontal ladders should be used. Safety guidelines for climbers vary depending on the design: arched or geodome climbers, flexible climbers, horizontal ladder climbers, etc. All climbers should be set up far from swings and should have a radius of six feet in all directions from the climber and any other equipment. Climbing ropes should be secured at the top and bottom. When your child uses climbing equipment, supervise closely.
These should have guardrails that are at least 29 inches high for preschoolers and 38 inches high for school-age kids. To avoid entrapment, the rails should be less than three-and-a-half inches apart, or more than nine inches apart.
Attention to details
In your one-minute check, make sure there is no splintering wood, rusty or loose screws or nails, protruding bolts or open “S” hooks, and no sharp edges on equipment. On the ground, look for hazards such as broken glass and other sharp objects and exposed tree roots or other obstacles that pose tripping hazards.
The Best Safety Equipment: Your Eyes
Now that you know the equipment is safe, there’s only one other thing to worry about: your kid! Dress your child appropriately, in shoes that have equipment-gripping treads (rather than slippery sandals), and long pants to avoid burns or scrapes on hot or rough surfaces. Avoid clothing with drawstrings that can get hooked on equipment, posing a strangulation hazard.
Always make sure your children play on age-appropriate equipment, and of course, keep your eyes on them; close supervision is your best safety strategy. To learn more about playground equipment safety—including backyard set-ups.
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