As we point out in our publication 'Community Risks & Those Menaces to Society,' although people spend a lot of time worrying that a sex-offender might be lurking around their parks, waiting to snatch their child away forever, few recognize that the playground itself is actually a much bigger threat; killing around 30 times the number of kids on an annual basis that registered sex-offenders do. Kids need play spaces, and this should not discourage parents from using them, but it IS meant to drive home the point that a little effort redirected towards playground safety would be time well spent; and is far more likely to save a child's life than worrying about any sex-offenders that may be living nearby.
"The top three things to pay attention to at a playground are surfacing, surfacing, and surfacing," says Gary Smith, a pediatric emergency physician with the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "It's everything." *1 The reason for this is that most serious playground injuries and deaths occur from falls from the equipment. Much like a helmet can save a child's life in a bike crash; proper playground surfacing could save a child's life or prevent serious injury during a fall.
But who is paying attention to this life-saving surface? The answer, quite often, is nobody, especially when it comes to public parks. Once a public playground is built, its maintenance is left to the parks and recreations department. While they will usually fix something obvious when it breaks or may replace the surfacing once every couple of years, on a day-to-day basis the upkeep is often left to its own devices. The current recession has likely only made things worse, with communities everywhere slashing their budgets on basic state maintenance.
Those who use these play spaces can take it upon themselves to do some basic maintenance of their own. One of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the risk of playground injury is to pay attention to the raking of the surface. As kids use the play space, natural bare spots form amongst high-traffic areas, often displacing the surface down to bare earth. Unfortunately, these high-traffic spots also tend to be the areas that pose the greatest danger for falls; such as below the slides or the areas underneath the swings. As children drag their feet underneath to stop themselves, the surface is worn bare. We say one playground at a child care center which had large exposed rocks and compacted dirt underneath their swings. It's precisely in this area that a protective barrier is most needed.
So the next time you take your kids to the park, try to remember to bring a rake. Rake some of the wood chips or other surface material that builds up in the lesser used areas back towards those spots that really need it. You're trying to create an even surfacing cushion all around. Even using your feet to kick wood chips or other surface material from one spot to where it’s needed can help. Try to make this a regular habit. Every time your child gets on the swing, or as you are swinging them, kick the material that builds up around the edges back underneath the swing. The same goes for other climbing equipment. You want to try to keep the surface as uniform as possible, so that a child has cushioning to land on wherever it is they may fall.
Children can be killed by falling from a bike, being thrown from a horse, or by taking a tumble off a swing or a slide. While most falls DO NOT end up so serious, all it takes is the wrong landing on the wrong surface. One of these scenarios can be easily prevented by ensuring kids have the right surface to land upon. ~o~ every death or injury can be eliminated. But if we all do our part, we might be able to knock these serious accidents down quite a bit further.
Reference for quote:
1. Liz Szabo, "Playgrounds: they're safer but still can be dangerous," USA Today, p. 4D, 7-30-09
For more safety information visit www.keepyourchildsafe.org