Safety should be your No. 1 concern when you let your kids loose on a playground, whether it's at a public park or in your own back yard.
About 200,000 children each year are treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments for playground-related injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. About three-quarters of those children are injured on public playgrounds and one-quarter are injured on home playground equipment.
Your health insurance comes into play if your child is injured and requires treatment, and your home insurance provides liability protection if someone else's child is injured in your back yard--as long as you have disclosed to the insurer that you own playground equipment. But it's better to keep everyone safe by preventing injury in the first place.
Injuries often result from falls, so a protective surface under playground equipment is crucial, according to the commission. Many homeowners install playgrounds over grass or dirt, but those are inadequate for protecting children.
KaBOOM!, a nonprofit committed to building safe playgrounds, recommends at least 9 inches of wood chips, mulch, or shredded rubber under equipment that's up to 7 feet high. If you use sand or pea gravel, install at least a 9-inch layer for equipment up to 5 feet high. You can also use surfacing mats made of safety-tested rubber or synthetic materials. The surfacing should be installed at least 6 feet in all directions from the equipment. Around swings, it should be installed in all directions at a distance that's twice the height of the extending bar on the swing set.
Swings should be spaced far enough apart to prevent collisions. Old-fashioned heavy animal swings with rigid metal framework are dangerous. Platforms more than 30 inches above ground should have guardrails, and openings in playground equipment should be smaller than 3.5 inches or larger than 9 inches to prevent children from getting their heads trapped in the openings.
Beware of potential hazards, such as open "S" hooks that can catch a child's clothing and moving parts that can pinch or crush fingers and toes. When visiting public playgrounds, look for signs of good maintenance; go elsewhere if you see loose or worn hardware, exposed equipment footings, rusted or chipped paint, missing or damaged equipment components, and splinters or large cracks in wood parts.
Whether at home or at a public playground, don't let children attach jump ropes, clotheslines or pet leashes to equipment--those can lead to strangulation, according to KaBOOM! Finally, watch your kids while they play to ensure their safety. They'll love the attention, and years later you'll be glad you didn't miss those moments of their childhoods.
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