Playing it safe at your child’s playground

I was at the park recently with my friend, The Safety Geek. The kids were taking advantage of the new playground equipment.

The Safety Geek was pointing out some of the safety features of the playground such as the protective surface of loose shredded rubber, which had been installed 6 to 8 feet around the equipment to reduce risk of injury from falls, especially near swings and climbing bars.

On closer inspection, we were satisfied to find that the equipment had been engineered without exposed bolts or protruding “S” hooks to reduce risk of injury.

The Safety Geek pointed out that moving parts, which might pinch or trap a child, were safely out of reach from the play surface and that the swing seats were constructed of soft materials.

Clearly, some thought had been put into creating a public play space that would be safe for children. Nevertheless, The Safety Geek reminded me of the importance of parental supervision of children using playground equipment.

For instance, he said sun can excessively heat plastic or metal surfaces such as slides and can cause burns. Surfaces should be inspected for temperature and for surface damage before use.

The Safety Geek approvingly pointed out a family riding along the bike path wearing helmets – including the parents. They stopped to play on the playground, and he whispered to me that he hoped the kids remembered to unfasten the chinstraps before using the equipment because these can get caught during play and can cause injury.

As we were talking, I saw The Safety Geek cringe as two children who had been jumping rope just moments before were now tying the ropes to the monkey bars to swing on them. Didn’t their parents know, he wondered aloud, that ropes, belts and strings should never be used around playground equipment because of strangulation risks?

By now, The Safety Geek and his little geeklets were getting pretty hot. He rounded them up for a water break and a rest in the shade.

He reminded me that heat injury can be prevented by avoiding the hottest part of the day, taking frequent rest breaks, seeking shade and staying properly hydrated with water. I was reminded that when you are outside in the heat, if you wait until you are thirsty, it already may be too late for maintaining hydration, and you’ll have to play catch up.

As my kids and I went home for lunch, I contemplated the important points that The Safety Geek had made to me about playground safety.

According to Centers for Disease Control statistics, there are more than 200,000 injuries each year in the United States related to playground use. Many of these can be avoided through proper equipment installation and maintenance as well as adult supervision on the playground.

I was inspired to go home and check my own home equipment. I hope you will, too.

Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Ute Health Center in Towaoc.

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