Bruce Henry, MD, Emergency Department Physician Pediatric Division

Playgrounds can be a wonderful place for children’s recreation, but they also are the site of many injuries. Parents should be aware of potential danger spots in playgrounds at school, in parks and in the back yard.

Emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related injuries in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 45 percent of playground-related injuries are severe, such as fractures, internal injuries, concussions and dislocations.

On public playgrounds, climbing equipment is the most common place where injuries occur, while swings are responsible for most injuries on home playgrounds.

To avoid playground injuries, children in playgrounds should be:

  • Supervised by an adult who will watch for potential hazards
  • Playing on age-appropriate equipment
  • Checked to make sure they don’t have strings on clothing that can cause accidental strangulation if caught on equipment.

 When you visit the playground, check the surface. Almost 70 percent of playground injuries occur when children fall to the ground. Safe surfaces include wood fiber or mulch, pea gravel, sand, poured-in-place rubber, rubber mats or rubber tiles. Unsafe surfaces include concrete, asphalt, grass, blacktop, or rocks. Protective surfacing should extend at least 6 feet in all directions from the play equipment. Surfacing under swings should extend twice the height of the suspending bar, both in front and in back.

Make sure the equipment is anchored securely in the ground, and is in good working order.

Check to see whether S-hooks are entirely closed and bolts are not sticking out. You shouldn’t see rust, splinters or missing parts.

Home playgrounds

Safety tips for home playgrounds include:

  • Use a shock-absorbing surface around play equipment, such as surfacing mats made of safety-tested rubber, or rubber-like materials.
  • If you choose mulch, wood chips or shredded rubber, use at least 9 inches of material for play equipment up to 7 feet high.
  • For sand or pea gravel, install at least a 9-inch layer for play equipment up to 5 feet high.
  • Don’t attach ropes, jump ropes, clotheslines or pet leashes to pet equipment—these are strangling hazards.
  • Look for spaces that could trap children. Openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs should either measure less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches.
  • Install guardrails on platforms and ramps to prevent a child from falling

By following these and other guidelines recommended by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, you can feel confident your child’s playground experience will be both fun and safe.

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