Keeping your Home Playground Safe

As kids head back to school, you're bound to notice the kindergartner whose wrist is in a cast after falling from the monkey bars. But it's not just on the schoolyard and neighborhood park that injuries occur - in fact, more deaths to children occur in backyard playgrounds than on public play equipment.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that from 1990 to August 2000 there were 150 deaths to children 15 and under stemming from unsafe playground equipment. Ninety of those deaths occurred at home. About 75 percent of the home deaths resulted from hangings from ropes, cords, homemade rope swings, and similar items.

And when it comes to injuries, there were more than 200,000 playground-related injuries in 1999 - almost 47,000 of those incidents occurred on home playgrounds to kids under 15.

The CPSC and KaBoom! - a nonprofit organization devoted to building safe playgrounds - encourage parents to install and maintain protective surfacing, eliminate unsafe ropes, and check for potentially hazardous hooksand edges on swings and slides.

Many parents place playground equipment on dirt or grass, which doesn't protect children from serious head injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than one-third of all playground-related injuries are severe - fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, and amputations.

The CPSC offers a number of tips to prevent your kids from hurting themselves on your backyard play equipment:

  • Install and maintain at least 9 inches of wood chips, mulch, or shredded rubber for play equipment that reaches up to 7 feet high. If you use sand or pea gravel, you'll want at least 9 inches for play structures up to 5 feet high. Or, you can use surface mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like materials.
  • Install protective surfacing at least 6 feet in all directions from play equipment. For swings, the surface should extend, in back and front, twice the height of the suspending bar.
  • Don't attach anything to the playground equipment that can be a potential strangulation hazard - ropes, jump ropes, clotheslines, or pet leashes.
  • Smooth out any sharp edges or points.
  • Cover open "s" hooks or protruding bolts. Better yet, don't use "s" hooks at all.
  • Check for openings in guardrails and between ladder rungs. Spaces should be less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches so that they don't present an entrapment hazard.
  • Make sure you have enough spacing between swings. There should be at least 8 inches between suspended swings and between a swing and the support frame, and at least 16 inches from the swing support frame to a pendulum seesaw.
  • There should be at least 8 inches between the ground and the underside of the swing seat.
  • Swing seats should be securely anchored.

"Children should be out on the playground where they belong, not in the hospital emergency room," said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown. "We believe that by sharing our simple safety tips with parents, home playgrounds can be a place where kids have fun and play safely."

In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that swing seats should be made of a soft material and that you should always check metal surfaces, like slides, when it heats up outside to avoid burns. You should also make sure your kids don't twist the swings, swing empty seats, or walk in front of moving swings.

Also, always assemble the equipment according to the instructions and cap all screws and bolts.

And, most importantly, always supervise young children while they are playing.

Written by Michele Dawson