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Playground safety

Four key areas to significantly reduce the risk of injury

1) Supervision

Play time for children is not break time for employees.

    • Outside play time is a great change of scenery for the teachers and the children
    • It should not be thought of as rest time for teachers
    • Children are more excited and active when outside which increases the chances of injury
    • If adult supervision decreases as child excitability increases…Accidents happen!
    • Each play area should have an adult supervisor
    • Playgrounds should not be set up with teacher sitting areas as this tends to minimize the importance of the need for supervision
    • Caregivers should watch for child behavior that tends to lead to injuries
      • Running
      • Not paying attention to nearby swings
      • Arguing over toys
      • Children pushing other children
      • Line battle
      • Etc.
    • Teacher supervisors must pay attention to keeping toddler children out of areas where older children are playing.  A common playground injury includes children running into other children when a child less experienced in walking cannot get out of the way of a running 3 or 4 year old.
    • Prior to heading to the playground a quick clothing check should take place.  Things to look for: necklaces, drawstrings, earrings, loose belts, and un-tied shoes.
    • Supervise child traffic at the end of the slides and in front of swing sets.
    • Enforce proper use of equipment, for example: children should not be allowed to climb up the sliding surface
    • Teachers should be stationed where they can see children in the crawl spaces and on the equipment.
    • There should not be any areas where children can easily get out of sight of teachers as this increases the chance for abuse allegations.

Key components of supervision:

    • An adult should enter the playground area before the children are allowed to enter the area.
    • A quick inspection for any obvious, out of the ordinary hazards should take place prior to children being allowed onto the playgrounds.

    Active monitoring:
    • “Active” requires that monitoring children on the playground is intentional.
    • Proper position: allows supervisor to see children from different angles, changing locations in the play area allows for closer supervision
    • Scanning: supervisors should look up, down, left, right, over, and under to see all areas of the play environment
    • Eye contact with children often can prevent unruly behavior that leads to injuries

2) Age appropriate equipment design

    Equipment for children aged 2 to 5 years should be separate from play equipment for children 5 to 12 years old

    • Signs in the play area will help reinforce teacher instruction on age appropriate play equipment
    • Resist the temptation to move advanced younger children to older group play areas
    • If possible, fences should separate age appropriate play areas from each other

    Platforms on equipment:

    • Are intended to allow children to change direction and get off the equipment if they want to
    • Should have appropriate guardrails
      • Minimum of 38” high for school age children 5 – 12
      • Minimum of 29” high for preschool age children 2 – 5

    Designs and supports:

    • Equipment design and supports for the equipment should prevent children from climbing on the outside of the structure

    Cautions about head entrapment

    • General rule of thumb is that all openings in guardrails, between ladder rungs, and similar openings should be less than 3.5” or more than 9”
    • Openings between those ranges can allow a child’s head to become trapped in the space

    Height + children + gravity = falls

    • Fall zones should be created due to the common event of children falling
    • Proper fall zones should not allow for less teacher supervision
    • Supervision helps prevent falls
    • Fall zone guidelines are established to prevent life threatening head injuries
    • It's a matter of physics.  The higher the fall and harder the surface, the worse the injury. ~ E. Henzy

    Equipment height recommendations

    • Preschool children should play on equipment no higher than 6 feet
    • School aged children (5 – 12) should play on equipment no higher than 8 feet

    Playground injury statistics

    • Each year more than 15 children die in playground related incidents
    • An estimated 205,850 playground related injuries result in hospital emergency room visits
    • Approximately 75.8% of playground injuries in 1999 occurred on playgrounds designed for public use
    • Fractures are most commonly reported injuries accounting for 39% of all injuries
    • Approximately 80% of reported fractures involve the wrist, lower arm, or elbow
    • Approximately 79% of injuries that occurred involved falling from playground equipment onto the ground below the equipment

    Material Types

    Loose fill material
    • Organic
      • Includes wood chips, bark mulch, and engineered wood fibers
      • Should be replaced over time
      • May allow for bugs and weed growth
      • Requires retaining structures
      • Should be shifted regularly to provide maximum protection from fall impacts
    • Inorganic
      • Includes sand, pea gravel, and shredded tires
      • Sand has problems when wet and with floor abrasions
      • Pea gravel has problems with curious children placing stones in various body cavities
      • Shredded tires are inconsistently processed in the past so problems with clothes stains arose

    Unitary material

    • Particles are bonded together through heating or cooling processes or with the use of a bonding agent or adhesive
    • These materials are costly to install and over time require costly maintenance

    Shock absorption characteristics

    • Depth of material needed depends on height of equipment
    • Recommendations include:
      • 9 to 12 inches of wood chips for equipment 7 to 8 feet high
      • 6 inches minimum of wood chips for equipment 6 feet high and lower

    Practical tips:

    • Use a straight ruler pushed into the material to measure depth
    • Feel the material move under your feet, if there is no “give” you need more surfacing
    • Consider 8” PVC connected to contain loose fill material

4) Equipment maintenance

    Inspect playground equipment for the following:

    • Broken or missing parts
    • Protruding bolts or fixtures
    • Dangerous gaps that can catch drawstrings or entrap body parts
    • Gaps between 3.5 inches and 9 inches as they create special hazards
    • Rust on metal parts
    • Splinters on wood pieces
    • Cracks and holes in plastic equipment

    Regular inspections

    • Designate people responsible for routine and more thorough inspections
    • Use checklists to mark areas inspected and take notes for future maintenance concerns
    • Keep files of inspections with dates which will provide for defense of some claims