How to prevent playground injuries

Playground equipment is a magnet for children, and rightfully so. Kids love playing on swings, slides and climbing components of playsets on school properties and at area parks.

While playgrounds are ideal settings for fun-filled days, they also carry a certain degree of risk.

Approximately 20 children in the United States die from playground-related injures every year. More than half of these deaths result from strangulation and about one-third result from falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But parents can reduce their youngsters' risk of injury and the severity of injuries in various ways.

* Purchase recommended, safe equipment. Parents should do their research when buying playground equipment. Consumers can check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission for any litigation involving certain manufacturers or any product recalls. It may cost a little more to install a top-of-the-line playground set, but the peace of mind and reduced risk of injury is worth the extra cost.

* Invest in adequate surfacing. The CPSC says roughly 60 percent of all playground injuries result from falls the structures. Although  no fall is pleasant, the severity of injury resulting from a fall can be greatly reduced depending on how safe the surface material surrounding the equipment is. Blacktop, concrete or even grass can be painful to land on. However, loose-fill materials like pea gravel, sand, shredded rubber, or mulch can soften falls. Plus, these materials are relatively low-cost and can be made from recycled items. But parents should know that loose-fill materials must be maintained to ensure a safe level of thickness. A depth of 12 inches is often recommended.

* Choose an age-appropriate structure. Injuries frequently occur when children use equipment designed for older kids. Playgrounds are not one-size-fits-all. There are specific differences in the size and stature of younger children from older ones, as well as limitations in younger children's development. Segregated playground areas, or those with groupings of equipment recommended for certain age groups, can help limit injuries. Pre-school children need smaller steps and crawl spaces, while older children can utilize overhead bars that maximize upper-arm strength.

* Safely situate equipment. Consider placing a piece of playground equipment under a shady area to keep children comfortable and safe from sunburns. Hot equipment can result in burns and being out in direct sunlight can also cause UV damage to the children's skin. Structures should be situated so there are no obstructions or obstacles to any moving parts.

* Select a shorter structure. Studies show that the greater the height of a playground structure the greater the risk for injury. Choose playground equipment that is nearer to the ground to prevent serious injuries from falls and other incidents.

* Inspect and maintain the equipment. Safety measures must still be taken after the playground has been erected. Equipment should be routinely inspected for damage and movable parts and joints should be examined for any signs of wear and tear. Bolts should remain tight, and any hardware that is protruding should be fixed. S-rings and other links and chains should not have gaps where children can get caught. Wood should be inspected for splintering or decay and replaced where necessary.

* Supervise kids at all times. Children should always be supervised when playing on playground equipment, whether they are playing at school, at home or in a public park. Adults should discourage poor or risk-taking behavior that increases risk of injury. Adults also are urged to keep abreast of changing structure codes and guidelines so that equipment can be adjusted accordingly.

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