Every year, about a dozen children die in playground accidents and another 200,000 are injured, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Elisabeth Leamy explains how to identify dangerous playground hazards.
But the good news is, most playground accidents happen because of the same hazards, and if you know what they are, you can avoid them.
There’s a difference between a risk and a hazard.
We want our kids to take healthy risks on the playground because that’s how they grow physically and mentally, but we need to eliminate all the most common hazards, so when they’re taking those risks, there’s less chance they’ll get hurt.
The hazards can be invisible to a parent’s untrained eye and a child’s untrained body.
The Foley family of Brooklyn, New York, found that out the hard way when then 5-year-old Kira slipped on a hard metal dome play structure at a new park, breaking her nose and knocking out a tooth.
“They should be removed,” said Dad Robert Foley. “While aesthetically, they look extremely nice, at the end of the day, I think they could have done a much better job at making them kid-friendly.”
We asked Bill Foelsch, a certified playground safety inspector and director of parks and recreation for Morris Township, N.J., to open our eyes to the most critical dangers.
First up, improper surfacing. Wood chips are the most common cushioning surface for falls and they work well, but they need to be at least 9 inches deep.
Protective fall zones are supposed to extend out from the equipment in every direction so that when kids try to climb the poles or jump off moving swings, they’re protected.
“Children will play on any piece of play equipment the correct way, and when they’re tired of that they’ll try to invent their own new game,” Foelsch said.
Lack of maintenance is the second hazard. At the playground we went to, Foelsch pointed out how the hooks holding up the swings had rusted, so they were not nearly as thick as they used to be.
“As the swing goes out, the chain breaks away and then we have an injury by something the child couldn’t even see,” he said.
Next up, pinch points that can crush a child’s fingers.
If one child sticks his fingers into sections of the playground like a hanging bridge and another walks on it, the child’s fingers can get pinched.
Head entrapment is one of the most serious — and unexpected — hazards caused by improper openings in playground equipment.
Playground inspectors use a smaller probe to see if a child’s torso will fit into an opening and then a larger one to see if their heads will be trapped.