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Playing safe outside

Poor and inadequate supervision can easily result in summertime accidents involving children at child care facilities. These incidents often include falls from playground equipment, collisions with other children transitioning between play activities, trip and falls, and other accidents involving playground equipment.

Reinforce the importance of good supervision before play begins. Concentrate on areas that need greater attention such as elevated surfaces and activities, transition areas between play activities, competitive games, and ground hazards.

Falls from playground equipment frequently occur from elevated surfaces. Position staff near elevated play components so they can easily respond to a child who is about to fall or losing his/her grip. They will be better able to respond quickly to a child in distress. Remind staff to control the flow of children climbing ladders, slide stairs, and climbing walls. For example, when using a slide, allow only one child on a slide and one ready to climb the stairs at a time. This will help reduce pushing events that may result in a child falling. Encourage staff to be on the lookout for aggressive play on platforms and climbing walls. It’s important to stop overly aggressive playground behavior before it results in an accident.

Many children prefer to run from location to location when outdoors. While running is permissible, it can lead to collisions when children are in large groups. Assign a staff member the role of “traffic cop” to slow down running children and direct traffic flow. Be cognizant of the size of the children during group games and the dynamics of the group for child-to-staff ratios. Larger children can easily plow over smaller children during group play. 

Supervision should also include inspecting playground areas for trip and fall hazards and insufficient groundcover depths. For most equipment, a depth of twelve inches extending in all directions at least six feet away from equipment is recommended. Areas of coverage for swings are different. While a depth of twelve inches extending six feet from each pole is still recommended, the swing bay surfacing should extend a distance of twice the distance from the bottom of the seat to the overhead bar, in back and in front of the swing bay zone. Playground supervision also includes keeping groundcover level and clearing the area of toys or other objects that can be a tripping hazard. 

Always inspect playground equipment to make sure it is safe and age appropriate. Refer to the label affixed to the equipment or the manufacturer’s guidelines for age appropriateness. Platform guardrails, stair railings, and climbing wall handholds need to be sturdy. Remove any open “S” hooks and protruding bolts. Check equipment for sharp edges. Remove sharp edges by sanding the area smooth or removing the equipment all together.

Soccer goals should be anchored with weighted sandbags or ground augers, so they do not tip over. Children should never be allowed to hang from the goal.

If you have a portable basketball goal, add additional weight to the base and wrap padding around the pole to soften any potential collision with the pole. Don’t forget to inspect the backboard anchors as well. Tighten or replace screws that may have worked loose from rust or prolonged use.

Hidden ground hazards

As grass grows, so do hidden hazards. Holes and trenches can easily hide under green grass and trip unsuspecting parents as they come to pick up their children.

Now is a good time to inspect your outdoor premises for ground hazards. Inspections should be conducted frequently and documented.

Holes and trenches should be filled with dirt and made level.

  • Look for exposed sod netting. Trim away the exposed netting or cover it with dirt in order to reduce the tripping hazard.
  • Remove exposed tree roots and stumps.
  • Look for bee and ant activity. If you discover a hive, contact a professional exterminator to remove it. 

Shallow water blackout

Now that swimming season is upon us, staff members assisting with pool supervision should be aware of shallow water blackouts (SWB). SWB occurs when swimmers repeatedly hyperventilate and hold their breath causing the swimmer to pass out underwater. The breath holding causes an increased level of potassium and an imbalance in the blood pH level, resulting in unconsciousness or cardiac arrest. Alert supervision will help identify children attempting to do prolonged underwater breath-holding and help eliminate the behavior. 

All pool and swimming activities must have at least one attentive certified lifeguard present. For pool environments, organizations such as the American Red Cross and the YMCA recommend a standard of one certified lifeguard per twenty-five swimmers. To support a lifeguard’s efforts to watch over children from your center, additional staff should be assigned to watch children while they are in and around a swimming pool. Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards, Guidelines for Early Care and Education Programs – 4th Edition, recommends the following child-to-supervisor ratios while children are swimming, wading, or engaged in water play:

  • 1:1 for infants and toddlers
  • 4:1 for preschoolers
  • 6:1 for school-age children

These supervision ratios should not include lifeguards. When it comes to pool supervision, the more eyes the better.

Inspect all drains to prevent suction hazards and beware of strangulation hazards presented by ropes/floats that separate the shallow and deep ends. Lifeguards are trained in CPR and First-aid; but it is very important to have staff trained in CPR present as well.

Summer transportation hazards for child care programs

The increase in transportation during summer months often leads to increased risks associated with transporting children. Practicing safe vehicle operations such as maintaining appropriate speed-limits, executing safe lane changes and turns, obeying traffic signals and signage, conducting proper maintenance and passenger supervision require added vigilance.

Adding another adult passenger to assist with supervision can reduce driver distractions and ensure child passengers remain properly restrained until they reach their destination.

Make sure your staff training includes information about children’s safety in-and-around vehicles.  Always inspect around a vehicle before moving it to make sure children are not in its path.  Remind staff to thoroughly inspect all vehicles before leaving them unattended. A child left unattended in a hot vehicle can quickly succumb to the heat inside, resulting in hyperthermia and death.

Take these suggested measures to prevent leaving a child in a hot vehicle or unattended in a vehicle.

  • Post notices reminding drivers never to leave children alone in vehicles. Post notices on your information boards, doors, and on dashboards of vehicles used to transport children. Not only can this help prevent a tragic accident, it also reduces the opportunity for someone to abduct a child who was left alone.
  • For each trip, create a checklist of passengers and verify that each child is on-board before you leave. Verify that each child is unloaded from the vehicle when you arrive. 
  • Always double-check your vehicle after unloading. Small infants can easily be overlooked if they are asleep in a large safety seat.
  • Never leave keys where children can get them.
  • Always lock vehicles.
  • If a child is locked inside a vehicle, get her/him out as quickly as possible. If the child is hot or seems sick, call 911 immediately. Follow your protocol for contacting parents in an emergency.
  • When a child is missing, check vehicles and car trunks immediately.
  • Check the temperature of the child-safety seat surface and safety belt buckles before restraining a child. These surfaces can get hot enough to burn a child.

American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, National Resource Center for health and safety in child care and early education. Caring for our children: national health and safety performance standards, guidelines for early care and education programs – 4th edition, Itasca, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2019. Printed in the US.