Children are injured on public and at-home playgrounds yearly, from minor scratches and strangulations, to concussions and amputations, to brain damage and fatal falls. In the past, improper ground surfaces were often to blame for playground injuries prior to the establishment of the development by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to adopt standards and guidelines for safer playground equipment and surroundings.
Historically, the CPSC in 1981 passed new playground surfacing regulations by requiring asphalt and concrete to be replaced with chips, sand or rubber matting. Most cities and towns will have public playgrounds checked annually by a certified inspector whose job is to report outdated equipment (especially if it is wooden), and recommend a replacement with metal or plastic all-weather material. Playgrounds that do not comply open themselves up to costly lawsuits.
Let’s take a case in point regarding a playground that did not comply. In 1992, a 10-year old Washington boy suffered brain damage after falling eight feet onto asphalt on a playground. He lived after lapsing into a coma and experiencing internal bleeding on the frontal lobe of his brain, but he now has a permanent condition that prevents him from resisting improper actions. At that time, the settlement was the largest ever to result from a playground injury to the tune of $216,708 a year for the rest of his life.
Other than mandatory safer conditions on the playground, technology distraction is a new culprit to blame for the lack of supervision that comes with playground injuries among children. Studies are being developed to determine whether caretakers were texting or using iPhones when in the presence of their children at a playground. After incidents such as near drownings and falls from monkey bars, it’s been known that caretakers seem to underestimate the time their eyes are pulled away from the child in their care. But, we all know (even before the iPhone became common) that taking your eyes off a child for one second will result in that one second being the time that something tragic happens.
A helpful resource of information comes from the Center for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) whose site offers realistic and statistical information including a fact sheet that provides an overview of playground injuries, risk groups, risk factors and additional resources on how best to prevent and enforce rules and regulations on the playground.
Children wanting to play on playground equipment is inevitable; we can’t keep our kids in a bubble and we have to let them take risks and learn some things the hard way. But no one wants to experience, or be witness to, a severe or fatal injury. What we can do is become knowledgeable on the risks that lurk in playgrounds, report any unsafe or faulty conditions, and establish a “no texting” rule to the moms, dads and caretakers at the playground. Let’s keep the “play” in “playground” by playing it save for our kids.