By taking time to inspect a playground for potential safety hazards, you can ensure an outing that provides enjoyment and physical activity unmarred by injury. More than 79 per cent of accidents on playgrounds are due to children falling. Look at the ground underneath equipment---surface materials such as concrete, blacktop, packed earth and grass are not safe landing areas. Guardrails need to be in place, children must play on age-appropriate equipment and they must understand and practice safe playground behaviour. Caution children against tying skipping ropes or clothing to equipment, and remove drawstrings on children's outerwear to reduce the risk of strangulation. If you find a hazard, contact the playground's operators so they can correct the problem.
Look for sharp edges, missing or broken equipment pieces, worn wood, metal or plastic pieces and springs and chains that could crush children's fingers. Also look for bolt ends, open "S" hooks and other protruding items that could snag children's clothing or scratch them. Platforms, ramps and bridges should be protected by guardrails to prevent falls. Look for openings on enclosed playground equipment that could trap a child's head. There should be no openings that measure between 3.5 and 9 inches. Pay attention to openings at the top of a slide, between platforms and between climbing rungs.
Talk to Your Children About Safety
Talk with your kids about playground behaviour---no pushing or roughhousing on jungle gyms, slides, merry-go-rounds or other equipment. Also discuss equipment use: Children should sit, not stand, on swings, go down slides seated and feet-first, watch for moving swings or other equipment when moving about the playground, and avoid playing on wet equipment---it's slippery. They should keep bicycles, book bags and other portable items well away from the play area so nobody trips over them.
Taking a water break may be the last thing on the mind of a child enmeshed in play, but it's important that they have something to drink every 15 to 20 minutes---and that they are adequately hydrated before going outside to play. Caffeinated drinks can lead to dehydration; water, fruit juices and sports drinks are good options.
Monitor Sun-Heated Surfaces
Metal equipment in direct sunlight can get hot enough to hurt a child. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, children can sustain second- or third-degree burns if they climb, lean against or sit on sun-heated metal surfaces such as slides, decks and steps. Avoid going to the playground during the times the sun is at its peak intensity---from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. standard time or 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daylight savings time. If you do go during peak sunlight hours, provide children with sunscreen and hats, protective clothing and sunglasses.
Maintain Safe Use Zones
The area around and under playground equipment on which children could fall should be covered in soft, protective surface material and spread out a minimum of 6 feet in diameter. Use zones for swings should span an area twice the height of the swing's frame and include the spaces behind, in front and to the side of swings; use areas around slide exits should extend 6 to 8 feet.
Kids should sit facing each other on a see-saw, one child per seat; they should hold on tightly with both hands when the see-saw is in use and they should remain seated. Children should keep feet to either side of the see-saw, not underneath, and no one should be underneath when the see-saw is moving.
Maintain Soft Landing Surfaces
The ground underneath play equipment should be covered in soft material to cushion falls; good surface materials include engineered wood fibre, wood chips, sand or pea gravel, synthetic and/or rubber tiles, shredded rubber, mats, or poured-in-place rubber. Loose-fill surfacing should be maintained at a depth of 12 inches and have no standing water or debris.
Watch Children Closely
Adults can help prevent accidents at the playground by using some of the same common-sense precautionary measures they use in other places. Children aren't always capable of gauging distances properly or spotting dangerous circumstances; older kids may test limits at the playground. An adult needs to be on hand to monitor activities and administer first aid in the event of an injury.
Require Children to Use Age-Appropriate Equipment
Make sure playground equipment is appropriate for the age of its intended user. Preschool children shouldn't use free-standing arch climbers, free-standing flexible climbers, chain and cable walks, seesaws, log rolls, track rides or vertical sliding poles. Ideally, playground equipment for toddlers, preschoolers and school-aged children will be in three separate areas.
Watch Your Step
Keep an eye out for items or equipment that might cause children to trip. Trip hazards frequently found on playgrounds include exposed concrete footings, abrupt changes in surface elevations, tree roots, tree stumps and rocks.
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