We may be seeing the beginning signs of spring, easing out of our “caves” from the winter hibernation, but according to Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow, we’re in for a bit more hoodie and jacket weather. Now, we want kids outside, living it up on the playgrounds as much as possible, however parents, play supervisors and equipment care takers need to brush up on their safety skills to keep everyone playing safe. Don’t let something simple, like a cozy hoodie, spell disaster on your playground.
Here are some not-so-fun facts from Safe Kids WORLDWIDE. Playground injuries are the leading cause of injury to children in childcare and ages 5-14 in schools. Strangulation resulting from entanglement and entrapment is the primary cause of playground related equipment-related fatalities, accounting for nearly 56% of deaths. The upside here is these kind of accidents are very preventable through, education, awareness, supervision and maintenance.
Let’s start with a little basic terminology. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) defines Entanglement as, “A condition in which the user’s clothes or something around the neck becomes entwined on a component of playground equipment.” Entrapment is, “Any condition that impedes withdrawal of a body or body part that has penetrated an opening.” Now that we know what we want to prevent, let’s talk about how.
Entanglements are most commonly caused by a hoodie string, necklace, scarf or lanyard getting caught in a gap or by a protruding element on or near a slide or moving piece of equipment. The first course of action is to educate children and parents that having anything that can get caught or tighten around the neck is a potential safety hazard and should be removed before play time. But I’m cold?! If you can’t remove the hood from a jacket be sure not to tie the ends of your two hoodie strings together, that way if one end gets caught, it has the potential to pull all the way through. When purchasing coats, look for snap or Velcro options that will give and release. To prevent entrapments, take off those bike helmets as soon as you get to the playground. Openings in current equipment are designed based on anthropometric data, which doesn’t account for “after-market” accessories, which they are not born with, such as a helmet. Very doable, right?
The second, and perhaps most important, part of prevention is maintenance. It is the responsibility of the playground owner to maintain their equipment, ensure that it meets safety guidelines, is in working order and does not present immediate hazards to its users. Ideally, a public playground would be inspected annually by a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI), in addition to routine maintenance audits, but at the very least, guardians should know some key things to look for.
I highly recommend the CPSC’s ‘Handbook for Playground Safety’. It is offered as a free download on their website and is an excellent resource for comprehensive safety requirements. Here are some quick and dirty hazard basics to consider, in the meantime. Equipment manufactured after 1995 should meet all entrapment guidelines for openings, if properly maintained and installed. However, if a playground is older and has not been retrofitted, assume it is not in compliance and use caution. If an elevated opening is larger than 3.5” and less than 9” in width it could be an entrapment hazard. Areas near slides or movement pieces, like spinners or swings, should be thoroughly checked for small gaps of protrusions where clothing could get caught, causing an entanglement. If you spot something you think is a hazard, try to let the owner or person in charge of maintenance know of your concern. That way they can address it immediately or close that piece off, if necessary.
The third key to prevention is supervision. Social media is great, what’s even better is real live socialization on the playground! Put away your electronics and actually enjoy your kids playing, or better yet join in! Remember, those play years go fast, and it won’t be long until they’re asking for the keys to your car. At the very least you should keep a very active eye on them. If an accident does occur, every second counts when it comes to responding. Also, know the rules. Most newer playgrounds come with warning signage and or stickers. Read these and make sure that you are using the space as advised. If a piece of equipment is labeled 5-12, it was not designed for your 3 year-old and is not safe for them to use. For playground supervisors, have a game plan in place. The manufacturer, BCI Burke, even offers official playground supervision kits from The National Program for Playground Safety with their new playgrounds. This includes a simple guidebook and basic tools to easily help teachers and supervisors be prepared for playground duty.
After all this serious business, don’t forget play is meant to be fun! We don’t ever want to scare people away from the playground and back to their glowing screens. The goal here is to take a few steps to prevent senseless, unnecessary, life changing accidents. With open eyes, a little knowledge and effort, we help create safe, challenging environments for children to grow and play!
About BCI Burke: BCI Burke has been creating playgrounds since the early 1920’s and is a premier manufacturer of commercial playground, park and recreation equipment. The Burke Reinventing Play ™ business philosophy focuses on continual improvement and exceptional customer commitment, as well as creating the highest quality playground, park and recreation products, backed by the best warranty in the industry. For more information visit www.bciburke.com or www.buellrecreation.com.
Information provided by Jamie Hendrickson, Buell Recreation Park and Playground Products, LLC- Regional Sales Manager, LEED® A.P. , CPSI and proud sponsor of OSSOA.
US Consumer Product Safety Commission- http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Guides/Sports-Fitness-and-Recreation/Playground-Safety/
Safe Kids Worldwide- http://www.safekids.org/