Feature Article - January 2007
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Safe Ground

Building, maintaining and inspecting playgrounds to ensure all kids can play, safely

By Emily Tipping

Act locally

Numerous organizations across the country also have taken action to improve playground safety. The AAOS, for example, has partnered with KaBOOM!, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing play space within walking distance of every child in America, to build a new, safe playground every year. Since the partnership began in 1999, seven new playgrounds have been built across the United States.

"We've committed to building a safe, handicap-accessible playground in each of the cities that host our annual national and international conference," Hurst said.

The most recent was built in Englewood, on the south side of Chicago, where hundreds of volunteers gathered to construct the 4,200-square-foot playground. Exceeding accessibility guidelines set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the site includes safety features such as rubber surfaces, wheelchair-accessible ramps, a "tot lot" for children between 2 and 5 years old, a play structure for children between 6 and 12 years old, and safety signs in Braille. The playground also includes several slides, imaginary play components and plenty of space for climbing and balancing.

"This playground will allow our children to play in a safe, appropriate and amusing environment, keeping them off the streets," said William N. Burch, president of the Chicago Family Foundation and chairman and vice president of Black Youth in Action, in a press release.

In February, the AAOS will construct yet another safe and accessible playground, this time in Chula Vista, Calif. Children from the community have already provided their input.

In addition to nonprofit advocacy, some cities have taken action due to the efforts of local citizens. Pittsburgh enacted one of the first city ordinances to mandate a playground safety program in 1993. Susan DeFrancesco, an injury prevention consultant for a local health department at the time, spearheaded the effort to pass the legislation.

Under the program, the city's Department of Public Works assessed safety and renovated playgrounds, including installing safety surface and modular play units to ensure structural stability. In October 1996, Mayor Tom Murphy and the City of Pittsburgh received a CPSC Chairman's Commendation for Significant Contributions to Product Safety due to this program.

These days, every new playground built in the city must comply with CPSC and ASTM specifications.

Similar advocacy efforts have been effective around the country, according to the Consumer Federation of America, in cities such as Chicago, Boston, Anchorage, Alaska, Berkeley, Calif., New York City and Baltimore, among others.

Danger From Above

Making sure playground equipment and surfacing are safe is important, but there are other dangers lurking.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, avoiding exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun's rays is very important, especially for children. In fact, research has shown that getting five or more sunburns can double one's risk of developing skin cancer.

You can't stop kids from playing during the peak sun hours, short of shutting down the playground entirely. But you can help by providing shade, whether by erecting shade structures over the playground or by making sure your playgrounds are situated near trees.

The American Academy of Dermatology strongly recommends that maximum continuous shade be provided over a primary play area between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the hours when UV radiation is at the highest levels. Fabric used to block shade should block at least 93 percent of UVA and UVB radiation.