In a sadly ironic twist, more than 200,000 children ages 14 years and younger visit U.S. emergency departments each year as a result of accidents that occur at destinations intended for fun: playgrounds at home, at school and in public areas.
Doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital emphasize there are more measures parents and caregivers can take to increase the odds of a healthy recreational experience for youngsters, from the playground’s initial design to its everyday use.
“Once the playground is isolated from nearby streets, an efficient layout is essential,” says Dr. Paul Sirbaugh, an emergency medicine services physician at Texas Children’s Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas. “Some areas will naturally be more popular than others, and should be separated to avoid congestion. It’s safer if active play zones are set apart from calmer spots. Because user age is also a consideration, areas for older children need to be placed away from areas with younger kids.”
Dr. Sirbaugh recommends careful selection of play components in a pattern that provides ample space to enter and exit the equipment. “Avoid any equipment or accessory made with angles or openings that could trap or squeeze any part of a child’s body,” he says. “Install guardrails on elevated platforms, and select sturdy hand grips that are specifically designed for use by children.”
Once playground equipment is assembled and installed according to the manufacturer’s directions, regular inspection and maintenance are critical. “A seemingly minor glitch such as a missing bolt, rusted hinge, worn chain or rotten beam can signal an accident waiting to happen,” Dr. Sirbaugh says. “Likewise, careless litter – cans, glass or wires – can cause or compound an injury. The same is true of environmental nuisances such as exposed roots, loose rocks or standing puddles.”
Because falling is a contributing factor to about 70 percent of playground injuries, Dr. Sirbaugh says supple surfaces, such as wood chips or sand, are optimum and should be refreshed as needed. “Hard surfaces with no ‘give,’ such as asphalt and concrete, are dangerous,” he says. “Soil, grass and dirt may look attractive, but their cushioning qualities will diminish with time and weather.”
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