Friday, June 16, 2000

Dangers present for kids at play

Report faults safety of public playgrounds

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kevin Henson plays at Sawyer Point.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        A majority of the nation's public playgrounds pose serious threats because of unsafe equipment, poor layout and improper ground surfaces, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Consumer Federation of America.

        Amy Conover, a 37-year-old Waynesville mother of three, isn't surprised by the findings. She paved the way for playground upgrades at her children's school, Holbrook Elementary in Lebanon.

        “People always seem very concerned about keeping their children safe in the schools, but the playgrounds are always overlooked. Nobody realizes how much time their kids actually spend on the playground,” she said.

        In the national study titled “Playing It Safe,” researchers surveyed 1,024 public school, municipal and federal playgrounds in 27 states and the District of Columbia be tween March and May. Ohio was included in the study, but Kentucky and Indiana were not. They found 80 percent had surfaces that were too hard, such as concrete, asphalt or packed dirt, and nearly half had climbing equipment that was too high — more than 6 feet tall.

  The U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Consumer Federation of America researchers found that:
  • 27 percent of swings have spacing hazards — they are positioned too close to each other or to other objects.
  • 31 percent of slides and climbing equipment have an inadequate “fall zone,” because there are obstacles where a child might fall.
  • 34 percent have openings in the equipment where a child's head could become trapped.
  • 38 percent have small gaps, hooks or other protrusions where clothing, particularly drawstrings, could become entangled.
  • 47 percent have peeling, chipped or cracking paint.
        “Playgrounds can be wonderful places for children to have fun and face new challenges, but far too many contain dangers that can injure and even kill,” said Rachel Weintraub, staff attorney for U.S. PIRG and co-author of the report.

        About 17 children die every year as a result of playground injuries, experts said. Government figures show that 170,100 children require hospital emergency room treatment each year because of playground accidents.

        About 75 percent of those injuries are caused by falls.

        At Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, doctors are compiling data to determine exactly how many of the injured children they see have suffered accidents on playgrounds.

        Wendy Pomerantz, a pediatric emergency room doctor, is a co-author of the study with two colleagues.

        The trio took a year, from May 1999 to May 2000, and reviewed records of children hospitalized from 1991 to 1998 and records of children seen on an outpatient basis from 1996 to 1998.

        Those hospitalized totaled about 347, while the number of outpatients came to 1,314, Dr. Pomerantz said, adding that the numbers may increase because final tallies won't be done until the end of the summer. No deaths from playground injuries were reported during the study period.

        “Head injuries are the most serious injuries,” Dr. Pomerantz said. “The rest are extremity injuries, where someone fell down or fell on a piece of equipment. ... The smaller children were more prone to suffer head or neck injuries.”

        A majority of the patients came from Hamilton County, but the study includes patients from elsewhere in the Tristate, the doctor added.

        Another survey, released in April and conducted by The National Program for Playground Safety at the University of Northern Iowa, examined 3,052 child-care center, school and city parks and found that 46 percent had relatively new and appropriate equipment.

        The most significant upgrades to Hamilton County park equipment have come within the last three years, officials said.

        “We've separated units ... removed swings that were too close together, created proper clearance (for equipment) ... eliminated some wood structures. ... All of our parks have been upgraded with safety surfaces of rubber, mulch or shredded tires,” said Ken Schneider, safety manager for the Hamilton County Park District.

        Similar upgrades are happening at city of Cincinnati parks as part of a program to make facilities safer and more inclusive, said Steven Schuckman, acting director of parks for the Cincinnati Park Board. The city and the county said their parks undergo daily inspections to determine whether equipment is in good condition and safety guidelines are being followed.

        “We really believe that the playground companies are doing a better job of making equipment safe, and we believe the surface manufacturers are building more appropriate surfaces,” said NPPS program director Donna Thompson.

        However, she said, people need to do a better job of supervising children and ensuring that smaller children and larger children have separate play areas with age-appropriate equipment.

        Other experts and parents agreed.

        “Most of the injuries occur because children aren't playing correctly,” Mrs. Conover said. Holbrook Elementary has “a video, called The ABCs of the Playground. It's a playground supervision plan that teaches the teachers how to supervise the children, and it teaches the children how to play correctly.”

        The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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