Published November 26, 2007 by
Playgrounds and pools are places for recreation and relaxation. But the laughter can easily turn to tears and tragedy. A two year old follows his older brother to the top of a ten foot high slide, slips while trying to sit on the top, and falls to the ground, breaking his leg. A one year old topples over the edge of the wading pool-luckily, an observant lifeguard rescues her. Even a simple activity such as playing holiday games at the playground can become dangerous. Knowing what the hazards are at playgrounds and pools and teaching your children how to play and swim appropriately can ensure a safe outing.
Playground equipment is ranked sixth on a list of one hundred hazardous consumer products published by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Each year, 155,000 children are injured on playgrounds. On public playgrounds sixteen percent of those injured are under five years old; on home playgrounds, twenty-one percent are under five.
Younger children are likely to be injured on the playground because of their stage of development. They are compelled to investigate. They won’t be satisfied at the bottom of the slide-they need to see the top, too. But physically, they are not coordinated enough to do what they want. In addition, they can’t project the consequences of their actions; they never anticipate falling off.
Slides, in fact, are one of the most hazardous pieces of playground equipment. Other pieces of equipment to watch out for include swings, climbing structures [such as “monkey bars”], and seesaws.
Most children are injured by falling. Seventy-five percent of playground injuries are from falls to the ground or onto other equipment. Fifty percent of these result in head and neck injuries. The most serious injuries occur when children fall onto concrete or asphalt rather than on a more yielding surface such as sand. Falls can also result in fractures and lacerations.
Children can be injured in other ways as well. They may be hit by moving equipment or cut by rough or sharp edges, or they may become stuck in the equipment.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has established voluntary product safety standards for home and public playgrounds. These include equipment specifications and suggestions for everything from the type of base surface to use to design and arrangement of the play area. The standards also stress that safe playgrounds require adequate supervision and maintenance as well as good design.
It is essential to teach your children how to behave at the playground and to supervise their activities. Teach your children to hold onto all equipment with both hands. Teach them to stop before getting of any moving equipment. Teach them to sit on the swings and slides, not stand, lie, or hang upside down. Only one person should be allowed to use playground equipment at a time. Be sure they don’t push or shove and that they walk well away from areas where other children are swinging or sliding. Be sure the equipment your child plays on matches her ability. A ten year old can easily climb a jungle gym, for example, but a two year old shouldn’t follow suit. Teach your children to use equipment as the manufacturer intended. For instance, children should swing on the swings, not twist around.
There is a growing public awareness of environmental hazards. Although little research has been done on the subject, playgrounds may pose subtle dangers. Some parks have been built on previously contaminated landfills. Others, especially those near freeways, may have high lead levels from automobile fumes. Some playgrounds surrounded by open land are sprayed with pesticides. Other playgrounds have wooden equipment that has been treated with wood preservatives or painted with lead based paint. Better planning by and playground owners and greater parental awareness could reduce the risks posed by such toxic chemicals.
When most people think of pool related injuries, they think of drowning and water aspiration. Drowning is the second most cause of accidental deaths in children, and the third most common in children aged one to four. Two thirds of the victims are non-swimmers.
Diving injuries also occur and can be very serious. However, older children and adolescents account for most of these. In younger children, falls and cuts are common-children slip on wet surfaces.
Toddlers are at particularly high risk for drowning. Their size makes even a small amount of water hazardous. In addition, they are often unsteady and fall easily, and they seldom know how to swim.
The key, then, to preventing drowning is to teach your children how to swim. Toddler swimming lessons have been controversial, but they can be worthwhile-especially if the disadvantages to them are understood. Children who have had some form of swimming lessons are only one half as likely to need some type of assistance in the pool as children with no training. Also, toddlers who start swimming earlier are more likely to become competent swimmers as adults.
The biggest disadvantage to toddler swimming lessons is that afterward parents believe the child is water-safe and don’t watch her as carefully as they might if there had been no lessons. Although your child may be more comfortable in the water after taking swimming lessons, she really can’t swim well, nor can she be expected how to react to emergencies.
Infant swimming lessons have other drawbacks. Prolonged lessons have been associated with water intoxication. Therefore, the YMCA recommends prohibiting forced submersion and limiting in-water time to thirty minutes. In addition, when children are still in diapers, it becomes difficult to maintain the effectiveness of the pool’s chlorination. There have been reports of epidemics of diarrheal diseases from infant swimming classes.
Besides swimming lessons, there are other precautions that may help prevent pool accidents. Fences and self-locking gates around public and private pools may prevent a toddler from toppling in while unattended. Adequate supervision from both parents and lifeguards is a necessity. Children should be taught to follow rules in the pool area, such as no running and no diving in shallow water. Finally, use lifejackets on young children who don’t know how to swim, but don’t become complacent-life jackets too, can fail.
Similarly, bear in mind that inner tubes, air mattresses and other flotation devices are for fun only, and must not be trusted in deep water, or if your child is out is out of sight. Toys break, inflatables' deflate. Don’t place your child in unnecessary peril by trusting such devices.
By their very nature, playgrounds and pools can be hazardous places unless a certain amount of caution is exercised. You can teach your children how to be careful, and keep playgrounds and pools safe recreational places.