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Play It Safe: Injury Awareness on the Playground

By Martha Michael

Playground Dangers

Nearly every American adult has childhood memories involving monkey bars and merry-go-rounds. And while yours may not include a broken arm from a rousing game of Red Rover, there are many kids who get seriously hurt on playgrounds all over America.

National Playground Safety Week is a designation aimed at raising awareness about the need for improvements in the construction and maintenance of jungle gyms and other equipment found in play areas.

According to the National Program for Playground Safety, or NPPS, a child in the United States is seen in an emergency room for a playground-related injury every 2 1/2 minutes on average. The nonprofit organization has been responsible for funding efforts to find out the causes.

Injury Prevention and Treatment

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 200,000 children under the age of 15 visit emergency rooms every year for playground injuries. More than 10 percent are traumatic brain injuries and approximately 56 percent are fractures and contusions.

Children ages 5 to 9 have the highest rate of ER visits from injuries on a playground, most occurring on climbing equipment. To minimize risk, the CDC recommends checking playgrounds for soft surfaces such as sand, mulch or wood chips. You should also read signage and check the site for areas where kids may trip over tree stumps or become injured due to broken equipment.

If your child falls and ends up with pain in the arms, legs, or head, have him/her assessed by a chiropractor; there may be a strain or sprain injury or even a condition requiring the assistance of another medical professional such as an undetected concussion or fracture. Early treatment improves the chance for swift and complete recovery.

Raising Awareness Through Research

Using a sampling of playgrounds across the country, the NPPS completed a study noting the impact of surfacing materials and overall features on the health and safety of children. The purpose was to ascertain the current state of playground injuries incurred from such trends as equipment construction and maintenance.

The NPPS Playground Safety Report Card has been used to develop training and outreach materials and determine best practices for maximum safety. The organization disseminates their findings through discussions with leaders as well as groups of individuals such as nurses, park officials, teachers and childcare providers.

The organization seeks to affect the design of playgrounds for better injury prevention and supervision. Some of the safety features the NPPS emphasizes are:

  • Height of equipment
  • Emergency plans
  • Surface depth
  • Maintenance plans
  • Sun exposure

More Than Child’s Play

School officials know that having an adult in the room is important. But so is the presence of proper supervision on the playground.

The nonprofit Safe at Play works to decrease the number of deaths and disabilities from playground incidents. The organization grew out of the tragic death of the founder’s daughter, who lacked sufficient supervision on a school playground. One of the founder’s priorities is to ensure usage of age-appropriate equipment as well as inspection by a certified playground inspector.

Safe at Play designed an action plan with the following suggestions for federal agencies:

  • Proper supervision
  • Age-appropriate design
  • Proper surfacing
  • Playground maintenance

The organization offers training opportunities to ensure that more individuals in supervisory roles are informed.

“Supervision is a critical component to the safety of children. Active and proper supervision can assist in ensuring safety and preventing injuries,” the website says. “Adults should always be present when children are playing at a local park, a school playground, child care center, or on the equipment in your backyard.”

The supervision aspect of playgrounds should be considered as early as the design phase. For instance, equipment in play areas should be created and placed so that supervisors can see all units completely.

The commitment to protecting children is paramount and comes from more vigilance by leaders and caregivers. Your playground days may have involved kickball games and merry-go-rounds, but kids today have safer surroundings thanks to the work of nonprofit groups and child care supervisors who are gaining ground where safety is concerned.

And if your local park has something that raises a red flag in your mind, take your concern to City Hall; most incorporated cities have a process to point out deficiencies in their parks, and the last thing they want is to be negligent if a child is hurt. Consider it your civic duty, and then you can take pride in knowing that you made a difference.

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