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Monkey Bars and Seesaws Can Be More Dangerous Than You Think
By Olivia Long, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

Playgrounds can provide children with fun, exercise, fresh air and the chance to interact with their peers. Unfortunately, these seemingly safe recreational areas pose a number of hidden safety hazards.

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, more than 200,000 children visit hospital emergency rooms each year with playground-related injuries, ranging from bad cuts and bruises to broken bones and head injuries.

While careless behavior is a contributing factor to an injury on a playground, faulty equipment and improper surfaces are an equal part of the equation. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), playground equipment should be labeled with a minimum age and should be surrounded by protective surfacing. Each piece of equipment needs to be firmly anchored with devices set below the surface to prevent tripping over them. Additionally, the playground should be designed with enough space for children to enter and leave equipment without colliding with other children.

The CPSC found that in nearly 60 percent of playground injuries, children were hurt falling to the playground surface. Even nonfatal injuries from playground falls can be very serious. A child who falls 10 feet is at risk of a spinal cord injury and paralysis.

While the surface itself will not prevent falls, it can provide protection from injuries or reduce their severity. The surface should be soft and thick enough to minimize the impact of a child's fall. Instead of grass or soil, the ground should be covered 12 inches deep with shredded rubber, hardwood fiber mulch or fine sand. Rubber mats at the bottom of slides and under swings are especially important.

Parents can also help prevent injuries by taking the following precautions:

" Make sure playground equipment is in good working order. Be on the lookout for loose or damaged supports; broken or missing rails, steps, rungs or seats; worn bearings or chains; and environmental hazards like roots, rocks or puddles. Also, be on the lookout for sharp points or edges on equipment that can cause injuries.

" Remove hood and neck drawstrings from children's clothing and outerwear to avoid strangulation hazards. Do not allow children to wear helmets, necklaces, purses or scarves on the playground.

" Don't allow children to engage in any pushing, shoving or crowding around playground equipment. In order to provide undivided attention, parents need to keep the children in sight and in reach on the playground.

" Keep toddlers under age 5 in a separate play area, fenced off from equipment designed for bigger kids because the equipment sizes and proportions are not right for small children.

" Check the playground equipment in the summertime. Under a sweltering sun, equipment, especially metal slides, can become dangerously hot. If it feels hot to the touch, it is probably not safe to play on.

Inspecting equipment and supervising children are extremely important, but can only be so effective. Children should understand how to be safe and act responsibly at the playground. Knowing how to use the slides, monkey bars, swings and seesaws will allow children, and adults, to enjoy the playground in the safest way possible.

For more information about playground safety, call 404-785-KIDS or visit www.choa.org.

Olivia Long is a certified playground inspector with the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Injury Prevention program.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, one of the leading pediatric healthcare systems in the country, is a not-for-profit organization that benefits from the generous philanthropic and volunteer support of our community. Operating three hospitals with more than half a million patient visits annually, Children's is recognized for excellence in cancer, cardiac, neonatal, orthopaedic and transplant services, as well as many other pediatric specialties. To learn more about Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, visit our Web site at www.choa.org or call 404-250-KIDS.

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