Number-One Cause of Injury in Elementary School
Playground accidents are the leading cause of injury to children in elementary school. Each year, in the United States, approximately 150,000 children ages five to 14 go to the emergency room with accidental injuries involving playground equipment -- and three out of four playground accidents occur on public playgrounds, including school facilities, as opposed to backyard play equipment.
Most playground injuries are not fatal; about 10 children per year die from injuries involving playground equipment, mostly from strangulation when a piece of loose clothing or jewelry gets caught on equipment or the child's head gets stuck between climbing bars. Falls, however, can also cause fatal injuries or permanent disability.
"A child who falls 10 feet is at risk of spinal cord injury, paralysis and death," says Cynthia Dennis, RN, Safe Kids Northeast Florida/Wolfson Children's Hospital coordinator. "Protective surface materials can make a life-and-death difference."
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issues guidelines for playground surfacing and age-appropriate warning labels on playground equipment. In 15 states, some or all of the guidelines in the CPSC's Handbook for Public Playground Safety are mandatory under state law.
"Nothing can take the place of active supervision, but we do need to make sure our kids are playing in safe environments in the first place," says Dennis. "The ground should be covered 12 inches deep with shredded rubber, hardwood fiber mulch or fine sand, extending at least six feet in all directions around the equipment."
Even with proper surfacing, teachers and playground monitors need to keep kids in sight and in reach on the playground. "Simply being in the same place as the child isn't necessarily supervising," says Dennis. "Kids on a playground need an adult's undivided attention."
For outdoor play, children's clothing and outerwear should be free of drawstrings and should fit snugly to minimize the risk of getting stuck in a piece of equipment. Do not allow kids to wear helmets, necklaces, purses or scarves on the playground or engage in any pushing, shoving or crowding around playground equipment.
The handbook is available at CPSC or 800.638.2772. "Before your child goes back to school, you might want to take a look at the school playground and, if necessary, discuss the CPSC guidelines with school authorities," says Dennis.