The vast majority of American playgrounds -- over 90% -- pose hidden threats to our nation's youngsters, according to a nationwide survey of 443 playgrounds released in May 1994 by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and Consumer Federation of America (CFA).
The investigation focused on the hazards that cause the most serious playground injuries -- falls, impact with moving swings, and head entrapment. Protective surfacing under and around all play equipment is the most critical factor on playgrounds, because approximately 75% of all injuries are caused by falls. Yet the investigation found that a vast majority of the playgrounds lack adequate protective surfacing, and pose other dangers as well:
- -- 92% (or 406) of the 443 playgrounds surveyed lacked adequate protective surfacing.
- -- In 55% (or 243) of the 443 playgrounds, the play equipment poses a head entrapment hazard that could lead to strangulation when children get caught in these spaces.
- -- In 76% (or 295) of the 390 playgrounds with swings, the number and spacing of the swing seats create a risk that a child will be hit by a moving swing. Moreover, in 26% (or 100) of the 390 playgrounds with swings, the swing seats are made of wood, metal or other rigid material that increase the severity of an injury when a child is hit in the head with a swing.
Nearly 170,000 children playing on public playgrounds are injured seriously enough to require emergency room treatment every year. An average of 17 children die in playground-related incidents each year. The PIRG/CFA report, "Playing It Safe: The Second Nationwide Safety Survey of Public Playgrounds," is based on an investigation of 443 playgrounds in 22 states and Washington, D.C.
Playgrounds do not have to be hazardous to children's health. We can save children's lives and reduce the severity of their injuries simply by ensuring that playgrounds -- from the equipment to the surfacing to the layout -- are designed with safety in mind.
This year's survey included a number of playgrounds under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, which did not meet the playground safety guidelines developed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission -- another federal agency.
Even Safe-Looking Playgrounds May Pose Hazards
Even playgrounds that look safe to parents may hold hidden strangulation hazards. For example, children can strangle to death when their head gets caught in an opening that is big enough for their feet to enter, but too small for their head to get through.
Severe head and face injuries occur when young children are hit by moving swings. Swings should be sufficiently spaced to prevent collisions, and the swing seats should be made of lightweight, impact-absorbing materials to minimize injuries if children are hit by the swing.
Because falls are the most common cause of injuries, the most important thing for parents to look for in a playground is the surfacing under and around the equipment. Loose-fill surfacing materials, such as hardwood chips, at depths of at least 9 to 12 inches, are preferred. Hard surfaces (such as grass, soil, dirt, concrete, asphalt, etc.) do not provide adequate protection against fall injuries.
The survey included some good news as well. Compared to a similar survey by the groups two years ago, the number of playgrounds with hard surfaces under and around play equipment has declined, from 31% in the groups' 1992 survey to just 13% this year. Many playgrounds surveyed this year, however, have mixed surfacing, with loose-fill, shock-absorbent materials like hardwood chips under some equipment and unsafe hard surfaces like soil and grass under other equipment.
PIRG and CFA Playground Safety Recommendations
We must improve the current safety conditions of the playgrounds in and across the country. Parents, school administrators, and other concerned citizens should demand of local and state governments that their community playgrounds be safely designed and maintained.
- -- States and local governments should adopt CFA's "Model Law on Public Play Equipment and Areas," which contains detailed provisions addressing safety and design requirements for play areas and equipment.
- -- Parents, school administrators, child care providers and parks personnel should evaluate their local playgrounds and work to make each playground safer.
Playgrounds were surveyed in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.
To help evaluate playgrounds in their community, consumers can get a free copy of the study's "Parent Checklist -- How Safe Is Your Local Playground?" by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Parent Checklist, Consumer Federation of America, P.O. Box 12099, Washington, D.C. 20005-0999.
SURVEY YOUR OWN PLAYGROUNDS
A free survey is available by snail mail. Contact:
Consumer Federation of America
1424 16th St NW
Washington, DC 20036