Common wisdom is that the best thing for our children is to get them outside to play – but this may not be such good advice if they head for the background playset. A surprising report released by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) revealed that over a ten year period, more children died from injuries sustained on backyard playground equipment than on public playgrounds. Data on playground related deaths reported to the agency from January 1990 through August 2000 was reviewed, and studied playground equipment related injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms.
The CPSC found that from 1990 to 2000 there were nearly 150 playground equipment related deaths to children under the age of 15. At least 90 of these deaths occurred in a home setting. Almost three fourths of these deaths in home settings were the result of hangings and strangulation from ropes, cords, homemade rope swings, and other similar items.
A major factor contributing to the danger of private playgrounds is that most home playgrounds do not have protective surfacing. Only 9 percent of home playgrounds have protective surfaces, while 80 percent of public playgrounds do have protective surfacing. According to the CPSC, dirt and grass “do not adequately protect children from serious head injury.”
The CPSC has worked in recent years to improve playground safety standards. In particular, standards have been revised to include:
* A requirement that ropes be secured at both ends to prevent rope from being looped back on itself and becoming a strangulation hazard.
* A warning in the equipment instructions against attaching ropes, jump ropes, clotheslines, leashes cables and chains – all of which could become strangulation hazards.
* A requirement for guardrails on platforms higher that 30 inches and for protective barriers on platforms higher than 48 inches. Such barriers and guardrails would help prevent falls.
* A requirement that a CPSC consumer information sheet for playground surfacing accompany the playground equipment instructions.
In addition to these equipment standards, the CPSC also has several recommendations to help keep our home playgrounds safe for our children:
* Install and maintain a shock absorbing surface such as shredded rubber, wood chips or mulch under playground equipment.
* Never attach ropes, lines and leashes to the equipment.
* Check for open “S” hooks, sharp equipment edges and protruding bolt ends. Smooth them or cover them.
* Check for spaces that could trap children, such as openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs. These spaces should measure less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches.
* Remove tripping hazards like tree stumps and rocks.
* Give the playground equipment regular maintenance check ups.
* Always supervise children on the equipment to make sure they’re safe.
For more information, visit the CPSC website. In addition, visit the website of KaBOOM! a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, with the goal of helping promote and provide safe playgrounds for children.