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Supervision is key to avoiding playground injuries

July 14, 2018

Public playground with colorful wooden climbing construction, swing, slides and rubber floor for safe playing

More than 200,000 American children each year end up in a hospital emergency department after being injured on a playground. That includes 100 cases seen last year at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

According to the American Trauma Society, adult supervision and making sure kids use equipment that’s intended for their age level are two of the most important steps parents can take to help prevent a play date from ending with a trip to the hospital.

“Supervision is key on the playground,” said Allyson Fulton, assistant director of the society’s Pennsylvania Division. According to the nonprofit, absent or improper supervision is associated with about 45 percent of playground-related injuries.

Falls account for 75 percent of injuries on playgrounds. “It happens most of the time because kids are not on the appropriate size of equipment,” Fulton said. “A toddler may be on equipment that’s designed for an elementary-age child, and the child ends up falling. Or, you may have a number of kids standing together at the top of a slide.”

When a fall does occur, it helps to have something underneath that will help cushion the impact. The society advises that play equipment should be placed atop material such as sand, pea gravel, wood chips, shredded rubber or turf.

Fulton noted components of each piece of play equipment should be spaced so that a child of the appropriate age won’t get his head stuck - for instance, in the gaps in a railing.

According to Fulton, playground equipment commonly is intended for one of three age groups -- infants and toddlers (6-23 months), preschoolers (ages 2-5) and school-age children (ages 5-12).

Injuries among the youngest playground set, through age 4, most often occur on swings and slides, Fulton said, while swings, monkey bars and climbing equipment are the top types of apparatus where kids ages 5-14 run into trouble.

Most fatal playground injuries are caused by strangulation, according to the American Trauma Society and the organization Safe Kids Worldwide. Kids are at less risk for such a tragedy if their outfits lack items that can become tangled in play apparatus - such as necklaces, purses, scarves and drawstrings.

“Things like a drawstring can get caught while first entering into something - a tunnel or a slide,” Fulton said.

While helmets help keep kids safe on bicycles, they should be set aside before children switch to the playground. “They can be caught in the equipment,” Fulton said of the headgear.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted in 2016 that more than 20,000 of the 200,000-plus children who annually are treated in emergency departments for playground-related injuries have suffered a concussion or other traumatic brain injury.

A fourth or more of emergency department cases seen at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh are a result of playground accidents. Of the average 438 visits to the department in a given year, 125 were playground-related in 2016.

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