Hazards in Plain Sight: The Dangers of Playground Equipment

As backdrop to some of the most memorable moments of childhood, school playgrounds represent both outlets for youthful energy as well as places where imagination thrives. When the recess bell rings, children stream out of the classroom and onto the playground where swings, slides, and jungle-gyms await. Yet, all too often, the equipment installed by schools around the country is defective or dangerous, resulting in injuries and even deaths.

According to the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), each year, over 200,000 children are taken to the emergency room with severe injuries resulting from playground-related accidents. Tragically, 15 of those injuries will be fatal. Particularly at-risk are children who are aged between 5 to 9 and the injuries that result cost billions of dollars per year, some of which is borne by taxpayers if the child is covered under Medicaid or Tricare.

Top Safety Hazards

Though many factors may contribute to a child becoming injured while using recreational equipment, some hazards are found more often than others. For example, improper surfacing material under playground equipment is the leading cause of playground injuries. This is due to the fact that nearly 80 percent of all accidents on playgrounds result from falls. Thus, the surface of a playground should be soft enough to cushion falls and schools should consider replacing concrete or grass playgrounds with wood chips or shredded rubber.

Another dangerous area on playgrounds are places where a child’s head or limbs may become entrapped. These spaces are typically openings between climbers, at the top of slides, and between platforms. Head entrapments are particularly dangerous due to the possibility of asphyxiation. Relatedly, when there is improper spacing between pieces of equipment, play areas can quickly become overcrowded. Swings and merry-go-rounds are particularly “hot zones” where insufficient equipment spacing can lead to injuries due to the inherent motion-oriented nature of the structures.

Preventing Playground Injuries

An immediate action that schools can take to prevent playground injuries is to increase supervision of play areas. Doing so can make a real difference, as over 40 percent of all playground injuries are directly related to lack of supervision. Schools can also enhance the ability of playground supervisors to spot dangers by designing play areas so that it is easy to observe the children at play. Moreover, while playground space may be at a premium for many schools, it is important to consider separating play areas for younger and older children, particularly at elementary schools where abilities run a wide spectrum depending on age.

For preschool-aged children, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has singled out the dangers of chain and cable walks, seesaws, and vertical sliding poles as being particularly hazardous. Lastly, proper maintenance of playgrounds can prevent many injuries and should undergo yearly reviews. There should be no missing, broken, or worn components, all parts should be stable with no indications of loosening, and all hardware should be secured. Taking these steps should significantly decrease the probability of a child being harmed while playing.

Parents deserve peace-of-mind when sending their children to school. If your child has been injured due to faulty playground equipment, contact The Pittman Firm today to ensure accountability and to secure appropriate compensation.

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