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Oklahoma Safe Kids Coalition
PO Box 26307
Oklahoma City, OK 73126-9983
(405) 271-5695 Fax (405) 271-2974
www.oksafekids.org

FOR RELEASE: April 23, 2003
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

A Day at the Park Can Be Hazardous to Kids’ Health

Parks and playgrounds can be fun for children, but without the proper equipment and precautions, a day at the park can mean injuries and even death.

Each year, there are more than 200,000 playground-related injuries that occur on public playgrounds. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 76 percent of the injuries happened on public playground equipment, and 23 percent occurred on home playground equipment. In 1999, there were approximately 156,040 injuries that occurred on public playground equipment. Of those injuries, 45 percent occurred in schools, 31 percent involved public parks, and the remaining injuries occurred in locations such as child care centers, apartment complexes, and fast food restaurants.

Unfortunately, from January of 1990 to August of 2000, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission received reports of 147 deaths to children under the age of 15 involving playground equipment. This adds up to about 15 deaths per year. About 70 percent of those deaths occurred at home, and 30 percent occurred on public equipment.

Since most injuries occur on public playgrounds, the Oklahoma SAFE KIDS Coalition, a program of the Oklahoma State Department of Health, contacted an Oklahoma City parks official to check on the safety of local parks. Over the last five years, the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department has updated about 40 parks to meet the requirements of the American Society of Testing Material, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the American Disabilities Act, making many local playgrounds safer.

“We are trying to make the parks more user-friendly,” says Scott Copeland, OKC Parks and Recreation Department planner. “All the newest parks meet the current safety standards, and we are using all the latest technology.”

Copeland says the best thing people can do to update their playground equipment is “make sure you are on a safe surface. That’s the most important thing, since the majority of injuries are caused from falls.” Safe surfaces include engineered wood fiber, rubber tiles, or shredded rubber.

Copeland also says that the newest playgrounds even meet the Americans with Disabilities Act standards for playgrounds. The ADA requires that playgrounds make appropriate accommodations for disabled children. The most important issue to check is how the children get into the equipment. The ADA suggests a firm, stable pathway of 60 inches, made of rubber tiles or matting in order to be slip-resistant.

Although improvements have been made to many local parks, not all injuries are avoidable. With parental supervision and by taking certain precautions, most of these playground injuries can be prevented, however. To check the safety of a public playground, SAFE KIDS recommends that parents look for the following:

  • soft surfaces under and around playground equipment;
  • tripping hazards, like exposed rocks, tree stumps or exposed concrete footings;
  • sharp edges or points and dangerous hardware, such as open “S” hooks or protruding bolt ends on the equipment;
  • guardrails surrounding elevated platforms should be 29 inches high for preschoolers and 38 inches high for school-age children;
  • pinch points on equipment with moving parts;
  • openings that could trap children (ladder rungs or guardrails) should be less than 3.5 inches apart or more than 9 inches apart;
  • hoods or drawstrings on children’s clothing that can get caught on the equipment;
  • and age appropriateness of the equipment. Manufacturers design equipment for two age groups: 2- to 5-year-olds and 5- to 12-year-olds. Younger children should not play on equipment designed for older children because the equipment sizes and proportions are not appropriate for smaller children and can lead to injury.

SAFE KIDS highly recommends that parents supervise their children while they play, and that they become proactive in checking out the safety of playground equipment. “Parents are not expected to become trained inspectors of playgrounds; however, they can help prevent accidents and injuries by visually inspecting the equipment to make sure that the equipment is safe for children,” said Martha Collar, coalition coordinator.

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