Hint: Check the Landing Surface

Playground injuries are increasing. Even though playground safety standards have improved, more children are getting hurt. Recently released data reports that:

• Every year, more than 200,000 children get hurt on the playground badly enough to need medical care in the emergency department.

• About 20,000 of these children have head injuries.

• Many of these children are very young—between the ages of 5 and 9.

• Children are more likely to get a head injury when playing on monkey bars, climbing equipment and swings.

When your child visits a playground, keep these two things in mind:

1. Make sure the playground equipment is safe.

2. Correct your child’s unsafe behavior to keep her and other children safe.

Safe Equipment

At parks and schools, look out for these potential problems:

• Surfaces. Material under the equipment should help cushion a fall. Falls on hard surfaces (such as grass, dirt or concrete) increase the risk of broken bones and head injuries. Some approved materials are pea gravel, sand, shredded rubber and wood chips.

• Bars. The space between climbing bars should be large enough so that the child’s arm or leg won’t get caught, but small enough so the child can’t get his head trapped.

• Guardrails. High places should have guardrails to prevent falls.

• Temperature. Check the equipment and other surfaces in hot weather to make sure the child won’t be burned. Equipment in direct sunlight can get very hot, even on mild days.

• Other dangers. Look for equipment that is broken or pieces that are coming loose. Check for splinters and nails sticking out. Look for rocks or tree stumps.

Before you allow your child to play on the playground equipment at a fast food restaurant, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) advises:

• Look for trash and general cleanliness.

• Check to ensure equipment and surfaces are not broken or torn.

• Remove your child’s necklace or other jewelry that can get caught.

• Empty the child’s pockets so that hard objects don’t fall into the ball pool and injure your child or others.

• Check the size of cargo netting. Netting that is too large poses a strangulation hazard. Netting that is too small poses an injury risk. Don’t allow your child to play on the equipment if the perimeter of a netting square is between 17 and 28 inches. Report the problem to keep other children from getting hurt. For home playgrounds, the CPSC cautions parents not to place climbing equipment on hard surfaces, such as wood floors or concrete patios. Even a well-padded rug is not enough protection if a child falls. Place the equipment on sand or mulch instead.

Safe Behavior

We want our children to have fun on the playground. But children may not always use sound judgment. Here are some tips for safe behavior:

ü Use equipment as designed. Insist that your child use the equipment as it was designed to be used. This includes not climbing on frames or jumping off high places that aren’t intended for that purpose.

ü Enforce age ranges. Don’t let young children play on equipment designed for older children. Although older children may be safe on equipment designated for younger children, they may cause injury to younger children without meaning to.

ü Be safe on slides. Only one child should slide down at a time. Don’t let your child climb back up the slide or play at the bottom of the slide. Don’t hold a child in your lap and slide down the slide. In many unfortunate cases, the child’s shoe has dragged on the slide, and the weight of the parent has caused the child’s bone to break.
If Your Child is Injured

If your child falls or bumps her head, look for signs of a head injury. Signs may appear right after the injury or not until hours or days later. If you see even one of these signs, get medical help right away.
When to Suspect a Head Injury

You See That the Child…
Looks stunned
Seems confused or can’t remember what he is supposed to do
Is clumsy
Is slow to respond to questions
Loses consciousness, even for a few seconds
Doesn’t act like himself
Can’t tell you what happened before or after the injury

The Child Says That He…
Has a headache
Feels like he is going to vomit
Is dizzy or things are blurry
Doesn’t want to be around light or noise
Feels groggy
Is confused or can’t remember things
Isn’t “feeling right”

Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer in Austin.

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