Each year, more than 200,000 children visit hospital emergency rooms because of playground injuries. Approximately fifteen children die each year as a result of playground equipment-related incidents. Many camps provide playground equipment — for both summer camp programs and year-round family and group use. As leaders in the area of providing safe and nurturing environments for children, camps should be role models in playground safety. The National Standards Commission is proposing a new standard on playground safety for the 2006 revision of the ACA-Accreditation Standards.
The National Program for Playground Safety promotes a national action plan to help communities across the nation address the critical issues surrounding playground safety. The plan is based on the following four goals that provide the foundation:
- Design age-appropriate playgrounds. For example:
- Playgrounds should have separate areas with appropriately sized equipment to serve ages two through five (preschool) and five through fourteen (school-age).
- Guardrails should surround all elevated (30 inches or higher) platforms and should be at least 29 inches high for preschool-age children and 38 inches high for school-age children.
- Provide proper surfacing under and around playgrounds. For example:
- Install and maintain a shock-absorbing surface under and at least six feet in all directions around play equipment.
- Surfaces should be filled with 9-12 inches of loose fill (wood chips, mulch, shredded rubber, sand, or pea gravel) OR use surfacing mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like materials. Asphalt, concrete, grass, and turf cannot absorb shock during a fall.
- For swings, surfacing should extend twice the height of the suspending bar — in back and front. The use zone for slides is the height of the slide plus four feet.
- Provide proper supervision of children on playgrounds. For example:
- Adults must be present when children are on the playground. Approximately 40 percent of playground injuries have lack of supervision cited as a contributing factor.
- Proper supervision means children can be seen. Crawl spaces, tunnels, and boxed areas should have some type of transparent material so the supervisor can see the child inside the space.
- Properly maintain playgrounds. For example:
- Check for sharp edges and dangerous hardware, like open “S” hooks or protruding bolt ends that can harm children or catch clothing.
- Check to be sure any openings or spaces that could trap children (in guardrails or between ladder rungs) are less than 3.5 inches apart or more than 9 inches.
- Eliminate any exposed concrete footings, tree roots, and rocks.
- Use only soft-seat swings — with only two swings in each supporting framework, at least 24 inches apart. Animal swings should be removed.
Other organizations provide checklists and tips to help promote better playground safety.
Playgrounds for all Children
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that new playgrounds make appropriate accommodations for children with disabilities. Most important is access into the space. The ADA requires a 60-inch pathway that is firm, stable, and slip resistant. Surfacing mats are good for accessibility, while sand and wood chips are not. A quick fix for a playground is to add an adaptive swing, but ideally much more can be done.