For parents, letting our children play outside is a big thing, and understanding playground safety is important. Did you know that 40,000 children injure themselves on playgrounds each and every year? Despite this, there are many reasons kids should play outdoors, from improving their physical health to boosting their mental capacity through problem solving and social skills.
To keep your children safe at playgrounds and facilities, Infinite Playgrounds, providers of playground design and natural play areas, have designed a handy checklist to make sure you know exactly what it's like when you arrive there.
Is the playground wet?
Wet playgrounds can be dangerous, especially when climbing up metal play objects. Make sure you wipe down the equipment your child is using or simply avoid them entirely if there's no protective surface underneath. Plus, no one wants a wet bottom from going down the slide in the rain!
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What kind of protective surfaces are on offer?
There is currently no legal requirement for protective surfacing on children’s playgrounds which is quite shocking and this is despite recommendations from nearly every playground authority. When you get to the play park, have a look at the surfaces below the equipment to make sure that you feel it is safe.
The safest surfaces are sand, wood chips, shingle and cast tiles. Bonded rubber mulch is also a favourite thanks to its eco-friendly approach. Grass is also relatively safe if it is wet – but dry grass has very little impact absorbency. Concrete, paving and an earth/hogging hard surface all offer poor absorption if your child falls down, so should be approached with caution.
Is it well maintained?
Rubbish strewn all over a playground is a bad sign but then you've got to think about broken equipment and graffiti. Both are signs of vandalism and could indicate an unsafe play area. Make sure, in these cases, that you check the equipment carefully before allowing your children to play in them .
Is the playground dog friendly?
One of the worst things about letting you child run free on the grassy areas is when dog owners are responsible and children's shoes end up caked in dog foul. Over 100 people catch eye diseases from dog faeces each year. Unfortunately, there are no laws to force people to stop their dogs from fouling in children's playgrounds.
Are there any out of park hazards nearby?
Playgrounds are always easy to access but away from major hazards like main roads and environmental hazards like rivers. Firstly, you should check for fencing which should be in place if the park is near hazards. And make sure to always keep an eye on children, even if there are fences up.
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Are you supervising your child's play?
Most playground accidents (60 per cent) have little to do with the equipment. The serious ones can often be prevented with vigilance against dog bites and risky play – the other accidents are generally trips and falls that are hard to avoid.
However, the 40% of accidents that do occur on equipment may be prevented if parents pay close attention to play on the more ‘dangerous’ areas, which are:
Swings – 40% of all equipment accidents happen on swings. I mean, many times I have seen children swinging as high as can be and then jumping off. And at least 4% of these involve the swing seat hitting a child's head which isn't usually serious.
Climbers – 23% of accidents occur on rock climbing-style play equipment, so pay close attention to children using climbers.
Slides – 21% of kids who get injured in parks do so on the slide. While it's tough to stop kids racing down slides, try to prevent unsafe practices such as running back up it. I drill this in to my sons all the time as you never know who could be coming down as they're going up.
It is important to note that this doesn't mean all of these equipment pieces are actually dangerous. Instead, they're the most popular, so there's a natural higher chance of injury.
All in all, for a parent or guardian, make sure you are performing a quick check over of the playground to make sure there aren't any hazards. And then staying aware of your child as he or she plays is the best you can do to keep them safe.