Checklist for keeping kids safe on playgrounds

As the weather warms, children and their parents will spend more time outdoors — for younger kids, it’s hard to top the lure of a playground.

Each year, more than 200,000 children’s trips to the playground end in a trip to a hospital emergency room. Of those injuries, 79% are fall-related and account for 90% of the most severe playground injuries, according to BrainLine — a multimedia project offering information and support related to traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Monday marks the start of National Playground Safety Week — April 25-29 — the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Service said in a release.

Although the majority of playground injuries — 76% — happen at public playgrounds, 23% happen on home playground equipment. Fifteen children die each year from playground injuries.

Falls and head injuries account for the most serious injuries. Monkey bars and climbing equipment contribute to 40% of playground injuries — the emergency agency says safety advocates suggest removing the dangerous apparatus.

The most common cause of injuries is from children’s clothing, drawstrings, rope or jewelry getting caught on equipment.

The playground safety week is sponsored by the National Program for Playground Safety, which offers key tenets:

  • Provide proper supervision of children on playgrounds.
  • Design age-appropriated playgrounds.
  • Provide proper fall-surfacing under and around playgrounds.
  • Properly maintain playground equipment.

The advocacy groups suggest parents should take an active role while children are enjoying the playground. The Adult Safety Checklist includes:

  • Adult presence is needed to watch for potential hazards.
  • Remove jewelry, ropes, drawstrings, to prevent accidental strangulation if caught on equipment.
  • Age-appropriate equipment includes separate areas and different equipment for Toddlers, between 6 months and 2 years, Preschool, from 2-5 years old, and school-age, from 5-12.
  • Acceptable play surfaces include hardwood fiber or mulch, pea gravel, sand, and synthetic materials, including a poured-in-place rubberized surface, rubber mats, or tiles.

The safety checklist includes scrutinizing the equipment children will be using:

  • Is it in good working order?
  • Is the equipment safely anchored in the ground?
  • No jagged edges or sharp points?
  • No hot surfaces? Surface areas on metal equipment under sunlight can cause burns.
  • S-hooks are entirely closed, and bolts are not protruding?
  • Openings between guardrails and ladder rungs should be at least 3.5 inches, to prevent children from getting their heads stuck, and more than 9 inches apart, so they can be easily removed from equipment.
  • Equipment installed at least 6 feet from fences, walls, and trees.

In addition, a Kid Safety Checklist provides children with things they should look for when entering a playground:

  • Are adults at the playground?
  • Can adults see children at all times, even in crawl spaces?
  • Is the equipment in good condition?
  • Is the playground environment clean?
  • Is the equipment surface smooth?

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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