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Guide to Playground Safety

Playgrounds can be the quintessential area for fun and play for children. With structures built to kids' statures and interests, and the ability to offer social play, their presence can provide an opportunity for physical exercise, excitement, and friendship-making. Despite these wonderful benefits, playgrounds can also pose health and safety risks. Falls constitute the majority of playground injuries, and 15% of those injuries result in serious health concerns. As such, playgrounds can harbor significant hazards for children, and practical safety precautions should be taken to protect kids from unsafe play structures.

Taking an Active Role in Playground Safety

There are many options available to those interested in learning more and finding new ways to protect children at play. Conferring with other parents, amassing a tally of children's injuries and collecting descriptions of them, identifying safety issues, and discussing what can be done to improve public play spaces can go a long way in protecting the health and safety of kids. While these types of activities can and should be accomplished during any time of the year, the week of April 19 to April 25 can be especially appropriate, as it is widely regarded as "Playground Safety Week." The National Program for Playground Safety is another event that challenges schools to meet safety requirements for children. Of course, for an adult or parent committed to kids' safety, nothing can substitute for personally checking a playground for hazards before allowing children to play on it.

Practical Playground Safety

One of the most effective forms of playground safety is the presence of adults. Grownups that are attentive and attuned to the needs of children on playgrounds can prevent many different types of accidents, by virtue of instructions, safety reminders, or preventative action. Parents who can choose which playgrounds their children visit should be aware of the dangers of concrete and opt for structures that are built on top of grass or another soft surface. Adults should become familiar with safe structure design, and pay attention to how playgrounds are built so that they can identify potential hazards. For example, guardrails should be present on structures, all hooks and chains need to be sturdy, and swings need to have at least two feet of space in between them. In addition, children should only be allowed to play on structures that have been designed for their age group – children who are too old and big for a playground may cause damage or become stuck in a structure, while those who are too young and small for an attraction may fall off or otherwise not be protected by special safety rails.

Playgrounds that Make the Grade

To help provide the very best environment to children, playgrounds are now officially assessed for their safety. Much like a school grading system, playgrounds can receive letter grades that range from an "A" to an "F". For a complete assessment to take place, a playground must be inspected on several levels, including design, maintenance and fall surface. In addition, a component that is outside of the realm of the physical structure of the playground, adult supervision is also accounted for and influences any received grade.

The design category ranks how safe the structure is, but places much emphasis on whether the playground was constructed for a particular age set. In general, it determines whether the playground was specifically made to appeal to children between the ages of 2-5 or 5-12. It verifies that guardrails on the structure are present, and that children cannot use parts of the playground designed for support and foundation as entertainment. When grading fall surfaces, inspectors may measure the structure to ensure that it is less than 8 feet tall, that the surrounding and areas underneath the playground are soft enough to be fallen onto, and that any exposed, concrete patches are sufficiently covered. Equipment on the structure can also be looked over and tested to determine if any playground parts are broken, missing, rusted, or pose safety risks.

New and Improved Playgrounds

Every year, new improvements are being made to playgrounds, and ideas about what constitutes an acceptable and safe play structure change in accordance to them. Many of the basic components of playgrounds of yesteryear have been substituted for smarter and safer options today. Metal playground material, for example, has been increasingly traded for plastic counterparts. This allows for a safer play experience, as plastic won't rust and present the potential for cuts and infection. In the event that metal has to be used for sturdy construction, it can be wrapped in rubber to provide a barrier between it and children. More playgrounds are being built on natural ground, rather than on top of hard surfaces like concrete, so as to protect children from unnecessary broken bones. In addition, forward-thinking playground planners now design structures so that they only appeal to one, demarcated age set, which helps ensure that children play in structures that have been built to their physical specifications.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart