Check out playground equipment before letting your child play on it
DEAR DOCTOR K: Two of my child's friends have hurt themselves playing on the playground recently. What can I do to keep my child safe?
DEAR READER: Kids get exercise, burn off energy and develop their motor skills by running, jumping and climbing on swing sets, monkey bars and other playground equipment.
But each year more than 200,000 children in the United States visit emergency rooms for playground injuries. The most common are broken bones, bruises, scrapes and deeper cuts. More serious injuries also occur.
Here's the advice my pediatrician colleagues give parents to keep their kids as safe as possible:
n Supervise your child. Children of all ages should be under constant supervision when playing on the playground. Injuries can happen when kids use the equipment in unsafe ways.
n Guide children to age-appropriate equipment. Most playground equipment is designed with a specific age range in mind. Very young children should not be left unattended in a swing, for example.
My colleagues also advise parents to carefully check out the playground where they'd like their kids to play. The specific things parents should focus on are:
n Check for cushioning beneath equipment. Playground equipment should not be located over hard surfaces such as grass, packed dirt, rocks, asphalt or blacktop. Acceptable surfaces include thick layers of hardwood fiber/mulch, pea gravel and sand. Other options include rubber tiles or mats. Cushioned surfaces should be provided under all equipment and should extend at least 6 feet in all directions from the edge of the equipment.
n Inspect individual equipment. Playground equipment is supposed to be inspected and maintained, but that doesn't always happen.
Ladders, platforms and steps: Steps should be in good condition and handrails should have appropriate grip sizes for children. Platforms should be surrounded by a guardrail or protective barrier.
Swings should be at least 24 inches apart and 30 inches from any supports. The cushioning surface should extend for at least twice the height of the swing, in front and back of the swing seat, and at least 6 feet to each side of the structure.
Slides should be well anchored, have firm handrails and have steps with good traction. There should be no spaces between the slide platform and the slide itself.
Seesaws: The handles should be secure and easy to grip. There should be a soft bumper under the bottom of the seat, and all pivot points should be covered to prevent pinched fingers.
If you find that the cushioning beneath the equipment, or the equipment itself, does not meet these standards in the playground where you'd like your child to play, organize some other parents. Then as a group, contact the people responsible for the playground -- usually a local government. People make many demands of their government, and governments can't always respond. But a threat to the health of children is something responsible authorities are likely to take very seriously.
To contact Dr. K, go to AskDoctorK.com, or send mail to Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.