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Playing It Safe

PIRG:  Playing it Safe:  Deaths and Injuries on Public Playgrounds

Public playground equipment continues to be a major cause of injury for children.

 Falls -- usually to the ground surface below equipment -- account for approximately 75% of all playground-related injuries. Nine out of ten serious injuries (mainly head injuries and fractures) are caused by falls to the surface. At least one-third of playground-related deaths involve falls. Of all deaths caused by falls, 75 percent involve head injuries.

 Other causes of injury involve impact with moving equipment, running into stationary equipment, sharp edges, protrusions, pinch points, hot surfaces, and debris in the play area.

 Other causes of death involve strangulation, impact with moving equipment, and equipment failures or tipovers. Strangulation accounts for almost half of all fatalities related to playground equipment. Most strangulation incidents involve entanglement. The typical entanglement scenario occurs because something a child is wearing gets caught on equipment -- very often on slides or swings. Clothing, scarves, mittens, jacket strings, and jacket hoods have become entangled in narrow gaps between equipment components, on vertical posts, and on open connecting links such as "S" hooks, causing death by strangulation. Ropes, jump ropes, and leashes, either attached to equipment or being worn around a child's neck, have also been implicated in strangulation deaths. Similarly, free hanging ropes are also a cause of playground fatalities. The other major cause of strangulation is head entrapment. The fatalities resulting from impact with moving equipment generally involve head injuries resulting from swing impact; children under the age of six are almost always the victims in these cases.

 Children under the age of six suffer approximately 37 percent of all public playground equipment-related injuries, children between the ages of six and eight are involved in another 40 percent, and children over the age of eight are involved in another 23 percent. The frequency of injury to children under the age of six has doubled since 1980. 

Slides are the most frequent cause of injury for children under the age of six. Superficial facial injuries (i.e., lacerations and contusions) and serious head injuries (i.e., skull fractures, concussions, and internal head injuries) are the two predominant patterns of injury for young children on slides, swings, and climbers.

 Although falls are the most common mode of injury for both younger and older children, younger children are more likely to sustain injuries to the head and face. When young children fall to the surface from play equipment, they are more susceptible to head injuries since they often do not have the motor coordination or cognitive skills necessary to protect their heads by breaking a fall with their arms. In addition, young children are at greater risk for head and facial injuries caused by impact with moving equipment such as swings.

 Climbers are the most frequent cause of injury for children six and older. Upper limb fracture is the predominant pattern of injury for older children on climbers, swings, and slides.

 Because older children's cognitive and perceptual skills are more refined, they better anticipate and avoid moving swings. They are also better able to react to a fall, typically using their arms to break their landing. Consequently, older children reduce the risk of head injury, but they simultaneously increase the risk of upper limb fracture.

Figure 2-1: Playground Equipment-Related Injuries Sustained by Children Under 6
Figure 2-2: Playground Equipment-Related Injuries Sustained by Children 6 and Over




©1999 Public Interest Research Groups