I have to admit I have an accident-prone child. Nearly once a week I receive a report from my son’s after-school care provider because my son has injured himself on the playground once again.
Since I do not blame anyone else when I slip and fall, I don’t expect any different for my son. Accidents are not intentional, but they do bring to light some risk-mitigation steps that may reduce the risk of injuries on playgrounds, especially for accident-prone children.
Obstacles seem to be a large cause of injuries. An effective way to minimize the risk of children running into picnic tables or poles (writes the mother who has been to the emergency room with a son who knocked himself out on a metal pole) is to designate a play area in which to run around. Keep playground equipment in one section, and provide a clear, open area in another. Differentiate the two areas by changing the mulch color, or separating them with a fence.
Other obstacles can be eliminated through daily cleanup. Be sure to check for broken glass, large sticks or pests. A quick inspection of the grounds when removing trash can help keep kids safe from obstacles that do not belong.
While it may be impossible to know who will be using playground equipment, posting signs may help in the fight for safety. Additionally, age-appropriate play areas make sense. For instance, sandboxes, baby swings and smaller equipment with a “You must be smaller than me to play here” sign, can direct patrons to an area for smaller children, while a larger sign warning, “You must be 14 years or older to use this playground equipment,” may help patrons understand the danger of larger equipment.
Even with signs and daily cleanup, accidents still occur. Additional changes in playground settings may help curb possible run-ins with danger.
Mulching a playground twice a year becomes expensive. Therefore, a more cost-effective alternative is rubber mulch. It is sold in a variety of shapes and sizes, but most playgrounds prefer the rubber-tire pieces. This is an environmentally friendly use of used tires, and is much safer than regular mulch. Additionally, the pieces never need to be replaced because they don’t appear faded. The initial expense is only slightly more costly, but continuous upkeep is unnecessary.
Rubber matting adds color to indoor and outdoor play areas. Indoor flooring is more shock-absorbent; however, thicker gym mats are generally safer. Outdoor rubber matting is manufactured in many colors, and typically has a 12-year color warranty against fading. This type of matting is beneficial because it isn’t scattered around the playground like regular mulch. Rubber mats also allow the best access for people in wheelchairs.
Just like adults, children must be careful of long-term sun exposure during the summer. Trees help shade playgrounds and keep the heat away from equipment. (We all remember those hot, black swing seats!) Choose sunlight-friendly colors to prevent burns. Another alternative is to provide permanent awnings around some of the equipment so it can be used during extremely hot days as well as in rain. Playgrounds with tents will have more year-round use.
Maintaining safe equipment is always a sound risk-mitigation technique. Faulty playground equipment, rusted nails sticking out and unstable play areas should be addressed immediately. Children do not look for the safety of equipment, only the fun, so be sure to check your equipment for proper functionality, and rope it off until it can be fixed or replaced to prevent usage.
Following a general preventative-maintenance and risk-mitigation plan can help keep your patrons safe on playground equipment, and they are more likely to visit your facility.