Danger: Children at Play

June 18, 1994

With all the potential dangers to children's safety, the playground would seem to be a welcome safe haven for worried parents.

But that attitude ignores the alarming statistical evidence: nearly 500,000 youngsters are treated in hospital emergency rooms each year for injuries linked to playground equipment. About 17 children die from playground mishaps on average.

Five-year-old Kelly Champ lost a part of her little finger this month after it became stuck in a small hole in the center pole of a jungle gym at her Cherry Hill school playground.

pTC It wasn't something that was readily apparent to inspectors of the apparatus. The accident happened when shifting weight of other children on the gym caused the poles to shift slightly and pinch the finger that had slipped in the hole, which was so tiny that no one thought a digit could get into it.

That's all the more reason for adults to be triply vigilant in checking out the remotest possibilities for harm from these inviting tools of childhood.

Links on swing chains and drainage holes on tubular side supports of slides and ladders are hidden potential playground danger points for small fingers. Swings can strangle children, or cause facial and head injuries when youngsters are hit by them. Slides are the most common cause of injury for children under 6.

More obvious -- and less excusable -- dangers are hard surfaces on playgrounds and equipment that is too high for children. Falls from equipment account for three-quarters of playground injuries, and for most of the serious injuries.

Yet a recent survey by national consumer groups of public playgrounds in 22 states, including Maryland, found that 92 percent of them lacked protective surfacing under swings, slides and climbers. The organizations asked for tougher government standards on playground safety.

A dozen years have passed since the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission called for the use of wood chips, sand or rubber matting to replace unsafe surfaces of asphalt, concrete and packed earth that typically underlie playground equipment.

Yet that simple recommendation remains largely unobserved, without force of law, while injuries continue to mount. (Officials prefer the hard surfaces for easier cleaning and maintenance.) Even most home playground sets lack this basic protection. It's time to change that insouciant attitude and make our playgrounds safer for children.

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