Safe playgrounds are timeless fixtures in the lives of children across the United States. A trip to the local playground is a time of bonding and joy for families everywhere. However, all of the benefits of playgrounds become negated if a child gets seriously injured or hurt when using the monkey bars or rocking on a swing set. For that reason, having safe playgrounds for children to use is critical. Playgrounds can be made safer through specific best practices that improve the area’s overall safety for the children using them. Safety is a behavioral approach, meaning that is in within a person’s ability to make –and maintain- the safety of a playground for children. Unfortunately, playgrounds can become unsafe if they lack any safety flooring or if dangerous types of playground equipment are present. Considering safety as a behavioral approach, there are measures that can be used to correct these issues, however. Flooring for playground is an essential way of curtailing potential playground injuries. Via the incorporation of playground rubber mats, a playground’s overall level of safety can be greatly improved.
Playground Rubber Mats are Mandatory: Principle dangers inherent to playgrounds are the presence of exposed flooring or a lack of protective floor surfacing (such as playground rubber mats). A playground with an exposed or uncovered foundation presents a hazard to any children that might be using it as such exposed equipment can easily cut or trip anyone who comes into contact with it. Safe playgrounds generally incorporate children play mats to ensure that its occupants are protected from the playground’s underlying concrete or asphalt surfacing. Flooring for playground constructed of concrete or asphalt can be very dangerous should children fall on them, and can lead to great injury.
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Safe Playgrounds: What Makes Playgrounds Unsafe?
Every year, roughly 200,000 children in the U.S. are treated in emergency rooms for playground-equipment related injuries. A sizeable percentage of these injuries can be chalked up to burns from too-hot equipment, cuts and scrapes, and even injuries sustained from simply running into other children. Most of these injuries, however, can be attributed to falls (http://www.cpsc.gov/en/regulations-laws--standards/voluntary-standards/topics/home-playground-safety-tips/). In a survey of over 2,600 playgrounds from 2001-2008, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) “Public Playground Safety Handbook” found that falls constitute 44% of playground injuries. At 23% of total injuries, equipment-related hazards are a distant second. It’s because of the inherent fall risk that playgrounds present that exposed concrete or asphalt surfacing is so dangerous to children. However, this aspect of ever-present fall damage is unfortunately only one of a number of safety risks that are inherent to playgrounds.
User and Equipment Error: Both the viability and the usability of a supposedly safe playgrounds can become greatly reduced if that playground suffers from any number of safety issues. In addition to the risk of falling, playgrounds are also susceptible to user and equipment error. Such equipment error is responsible for, as reported by the CPSC, responsible for 23% of yearly playground injury. One factor that greatly reduces the overall safety of a playground is the presence of dangerous types of playground equipment. Examples of unsafe equipment that can exist in a playground include tall or elevated play sets, as well as playground sets with protruding parts and sharp edges. Worn and unmaintained equipment is also detrimental to the goal of creating safe playgrounds.
Children playing on damaged equipment can become seriously injured if that equipment breaks on them or if they are cut by exposed sharp edges. In addition, unmaintained playgrounds can become excessively dirty, which can increase the risk of children who use the playground becoming ill, sick or suffer from a slip and fall accident. Lack of proper playground maintenance is also a potential hazard to any child using the equipment. Likewise, if a playground has excessively elevated play sets or equipment the risk of children being injured in falls rises. Protruding parts with sharp edges additionally pose a danger to any child who comes into contact with such parts.
Protect From Falls: Playground rubber mats are a useful and readily available safety net that can mitigate or remove the hazards posed by the potential dangers of playgrounds. Children play mats (especially playground rubber mats) make play areas safe because rubber is a softer surface than the concrete or asphalt foundations most playgrounds are built upon. Playgrounds that incorporate playground rubber mats are generally much safer than playgrounds that lack this protective equipment. Rubber mats function most usefully as a means of negating any fall damage a child might suffer in the course of their playground activities, however, they can also act as a barrier that will cover up protruding or sharp objects on the ground or at the base of the playground equipment. Playground rubber mats are only one type of flooring for playground. “Loose fill material” such as sand or wood mulch are often considered to be satisfactory means of ensuring playground safety. However, loose fill material does not provide the same manner of protection as playground rubber mats. According to the CPSC, sand and wood mulch only offer fall protection from heights of 4 and 7 feet, respectively. Compare this to children play mats, which offer protection from heights of 10 feet or greater. Additionally, playground rubber mats require only 2.5 inches of thickness to be effective safety measures, whereas loose-fill flooring (regardless of the particular material used) must be at least 9 inches deep. It is up to the individual to make the right choice in regards to what type of flooring they want in their playground, however, a playground owner must know that proper flooring for playground is an essential and available safety feature for playgrounds of all kinds.
It is also important to counter the negative effects of other playground safety hazards, such as exposed or sharp edges and unmaintained equipment. One proactive approach in ensuring a safe playground is too file down all protruding nuts and bolts, so that the slicing hazard they present to children is reduced. The CSPC also recommends that all edges be rolled or have rounded capping, and that and wooden components be smooth and splinter-free. By doing this, the overall usability of the playground will be preserved. In addition, regular preventative maintenance of a the playground should be undergone frequently in order to find and correct any worn or damaged equipment before it can jeopardize what would otherwise be a safe playground. If damaged equipment is present, it should immediately be reported to the equipment manufacturer and children should be directed to stay away from said equipment.
Excessively tall equipment can also present a serious problem if used inappropriately. The CPSC recommends that climbable playground equipment should be less than 32 inches high for toddlers and only up to 60 inches tall for preschool aged children under 5 years old. Grade school children 5 years and older are generally considered to be able to handle free-standing playground structures safely, though supervision should be maintained and proper children play mats should be installed to ensure safe playgrounds.
Safe playgrounds are successful and happy playgrounds. Proper flooring for playground is crucial to the safety and welfare of a playground’s occupants. It is an unfortunate reality that playgrounds can become unsafe. For this reason, safety must be viewed as a behavioral approach, meaning it must be undertaken deliberately and with purpose in order to ensure children are protected from these hazards. Among these dangers are a lack of proper playground flooring, exposed or uncovered foundations, protruding or sharp parts, and excessively tall play sets and structures. One effective and smart method of ensuring a playground’s safety is by incorporating playground rubber mats to reduce and remove the dangers listed above. Children play mats are an excellent addition to any playground and will go a long way in creating and maintaining successful and safe playgrounds. Additionally, ensuring tall equipment is used only be children of the proper age, all metal components are rounded or filed down, and all equipment undergoes regular inspection and maintenance will all go a long way in creating safe playgrounds space for children and a memorable and happy experience for all.