Feature Article - October 2002
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Playing It Safe

A guide to playground diligence and maintenance

By Stacy St. Clair

An entry archway is a good
feature for directing the flow
of children onto play events.
4. Design

Deciding where playground equipment should go is a lot like buying a house.

It's all about location, location, location.

Though most manufacturers handle this chore, you should always double check to ensure your structure has the safest flow and components available.

Safety advocates have begun pushing for more shaded playgrounds, which reduce the chance of a child being burnt on hot surfaces. It also lessens the possibility of sunburn and ultraviolet-light damage.

Parks that select a playground location based on available shade should consider how much shade is provided between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. standard time. Those are the peak sun hours when most exposure problems occur.

Playgrounds, however, don't revolve solely around the sun. Swings, without question, should demand your greatest attention because they are the piece of moving equipment most likely to cause injury. The National Program for Playground Safety recommends replacing all animal swings and metal or wooden seats with soft seats.

All swings should be positioned at least two feet apart at the base and 30 inches from any support. Ideally, there should be no more than two seats per frame.

Curbs and borders can help stop the surfacing from
migrating and also help direct the traffic flow,
keeping cyclists and runners out of the kids' area.

Experts also recommend the swings be attached to framework separate from other equipment. The segregation reduces the chances of a child being injured after running in swingers' path. The fall zone—the area requiring a properly padded surface—should be at least two times the maximum pivot or swing hanger. If, for example, a hanger pivot height is 15 feet, the fall zone must be at least 30 feet in front and 30 feet in back of the seat.

When picking a design for playground, resist a sky's-the-limit attitude. Studies show the greater a structure's height, the greater the chances for injury. A study conducted in Canada last year determined children who played on equipment higher than eight feet were nearly three times more likely to be injured than children on lower structures.

The National Program for Playground Safety recommends structures be no higher than six feet for preschool students and eight feet for elementary-age children.

Should you hear groans from daredevils who want higher—and presumably faster—structures, consider this: There is virtually no difference in velocity between an eight-foot and 10-foot slide.

And in the end, the nanosecond the speed demons lose could save their lives. Not a bad trade off.

It's up to you

Now that you've designed a safe structure, segregated age groups and rededicated your resources to minimize playground injuries, there's still one last chore.

Experts encourage playground managers to be aware of ever changing structure codes and guidelines. By monitoring the modifications, supervisors can adjust their equipment accordingly and reduce the possibility of successful lawsuits.

The best way to monitor the changes is to visit the CPSC Web site at www.cpsc.gov and the American Society of Testing Materials at www.astm.org.

Where the Hurt Is

The following is a breakdown of where playground injuries occur, according to the National Program for Playground Safety in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Percentages reflect some overlap among facilities.