Back in the early 1980’s, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) published the first edition of what is now considered the standards guide in the practice of safety in and around public playgrounds. The CPSC is a federal government agency given the authority to inform the general public about safety standards, statistics and suggested safety practices. Their mission statement is as follows:
Saving Lives and Keeping Families Safe
Most industry experts and watchdog agencies estimate that each year there are more than 200,000 public playground injuries that require a visit to the Emergency Room. The CPSC is tasked with the responsibility to determine regulations regarding the safety on playgrounds by evaluating the innovative playground equipment and maintaining safety records of pre-approved equipment.
Defining a Public Playground
Playground equipment speaks of apparatus used by children upwards of the age of twelve. The term ‘public’ refers to:
- Recreational areas built for local neighborhoods
- Childcare facilities
- City and State parks
- Condominiums and Apartment Buildings, among others.
Choosing a Safe Playground
A safe playground is an enjoyable place where children exercise, learn, grow and begin to negotiate with other children. Fundamental safety issues include the safety ratings of each piece of equipment as well as the overall layout and low hazard design. To minimize the injuries created by children on the playground, it is critical to lay a protective surface near and beneath the playground equipment.
Recent updates to the CPSC’s Handbook for Public Playground Safety focus upon improved protective surfaces beneath playgrounds. Recycled and shredded rubber mulch beneath the playground has been shown to reduce the magnitude of injuries, especially head injuries. Calculating how much mulch to place on the playground ’floor’ is easier than you may think. Follow this link to Playground Mulch Calculator to calculate the amount of mulch required for the specific dimensions of any playground.
How to Keep Your Child Safe When Enjoying their Favorite Playground
Inspect the playground before your child begins to use the equipment
The primary purpose of this stage is to inspect the playground equipment with the specific intention to determine if there has been a lack of maintenance or broken parts. Take a moment to inspect that:
- The screws are flush with the equipment and there are no missing bolts.
- There is sufficient protective products beneath the playground equipment to catch falling children. Injuries from falls account for more than 75% of playground mishaps.
- The equipment has been appropriately secured to the ground.
- There are no sharp edges on existing equipment.
- There are no splinters if the equipment is made of wood.
- The S-chain links are closed and secure.
- Any platform more than 30 inches off the ground has a safety railing. The railing slats must not exceed 3.5 inches wide to ensure a child’s head cannot become stuck between the rails.
- Check the slide portions of the equipment. Is it free of debris? Has the sun heated the plastic or metal slide that it might cause injuries?
- Check the areas that have moving parts (like a seesaw) that your child cannot get their fingers pinched.
Teach Your Child About Playground Safety and Stranger Danger
After you have inspected the equipment, you have successfully begun to proactively reduce potential injuries.
Educating your child about playground safety should begin as early as possible with age-appropriate concepts a child can grasp. Remind your child regarding the rules of general playground conduct. This would include no pushing, holding onto the equipment with both hands and always sliding feet first, to name a few. Explain that playgrounds are really exciting, but they can be unsafe in a variety of ways – especially if a child neglects to follow pre-established safety guidelines.
However, child safety on a playground extends passed potential physical injuries. Caretakers and parents must educate their children about the very real concern of Stranger Danger. Stranger Danger is a catchphrase that explains the dangers children face when dealing with an adult they do not know.
It is critical to teach your child about the innate dangers lurking in and around a playground. Begin by having an age-appropriate dialogue about the concept of a stranger – someone they do not know or have never seen. Follow these helpful hints to keep your child safe from Stranger Danger:
- Use the buddy system
- Practice with your child as they need to remember their name, address or phone number
- Encourage your child to trust their natural instincts – if the situation feels wrong, run and tell a trusted non-stranger adult
- Keep walking or start running if someone stops a car and tries to distract the child with candy
Proper Supervision on a Playground
It is crucial for parents to consider the amount and quality of supervision on playgrounds located in child-care centers, schools or recreation facilities. The increased potential for injuries on playgrounds should require personnel or volunteers to be properly trained. Although challenging to find, there are universities who offer several degree certificates regarding a variety of playground safety issues. Given the reduced costs of cameras, it is also wise for those responsible for playground safety to install these safeguard measures.
In light of the newfangled technological advances, there are several phone apps to help keep your child safe. The FBI offers a free app (IOS or Android) to keep up to date statistics and information regarding your child-ready in case of an emergency. Check out some low-cost apps that keep track of your child’s location using real-time GPS.
The reality is the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) suggests that playground supervision mirrors teacher/student classroom ratios. In general, if there is one teacher for a class of 32, the supervision on the playground should meet this ratio. Playground supervision is recognized as one of the most critical areas when managing the relationship between a child’s physical activity and the potential liability present from a playground.
In sum, the potential of a playground injury lawsuit is a very real risk. The majority of playground lawsuits rest upon the concept of negligence, with serious consequences to those proven to be at fault. Be vigilant and be proactive in keeping your child safe. The extra effort is worth the reduced potential for injury.