Your Local Playground: Proceed with Caution
Swings and Slides: Safe for Kids?
It's another gorgeous day at the park. As you saunter onto the playground, the monkey bars beckon and your kids speed ahead. You settle on a nearby bench, iced coffee in hand, keeping a watchful eye as they scramble up and down the climbing structure, racing again and again to reach the top.
But is a watchful eye enough? A new report released jointly by the Consumer Federation of America and the U.S. Public Interest Group raises disturbing questions about the safety of many of the nation's playgrounds. Among the findings, based on a survey of 1,024 public playgrounds in 27 states and Washington, DC:
No Federal Oversight
When it comes to federal law, birds and wildlife arguably have greater protections than children. To be sure, toys, bunk beds, and kids' sleepwear are subject to federal regulations, but playgrounds are not. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issues voluntary guidelines only. To date, just six states -- California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Texas -- have adopted playground-safety standards.
"None of them go as far as we would like," says Rachel Weintraub of U.S. PIRG, co-author of the playground survey. "Parents need to know there's no omnipotent body out there to protect children. That's really their job."
Playground Safety Checklist: What to Look For
Wonder if the swings at your local playground are too closely spaced? What about the "fall zone" beneath the curly slide your children love? Pack a clipboard, pencil, tape measure, and ruler, and then use this checklist to conduct your own safety survey:
Seventy-five percent of playground injuries are caused by falls.
Playground surface should be of a loose-fill material, such as hardwood chips, mulch, sand, pea gravel, shredded tires, rubber tiles, or unitary synthetic surface. Depth should be 9 inches or more.
Height of any or all structures should be no more than 6 feet from the point the child enters the structure.
There should be no more than two swings per bay (section between supports).
Swings should be 24 inches apart.
Swings should be at least 30 inches from support structures.
Swing seats should not be made of wood or metal.
(Area around or under equipment where kids might fall)
Fall zone should extend a minimum of 6 feet in all directions from perimeter of equipment.
If height of adjacent play equipment is 30 inches or higher, minimum distance between pieces of equipment should be at least 9 feet.
Area around swings should be twice the height of the swing, in both front and back, with no fences or trees in that area.
Head Entrapment Hazards
No play equipment should have openings (such as spaces between rungs) between 3.5 and 9 inches.
Clothing Entanglement Hazards
No equipment should have open "S" hooks, gaps, or protrusions, especially at the tops of slides, on which children could catch clothing, jewelry, or drawstrings.
No equipment should have any peeling, chipped, or cracked paint. (Although a lead-paint ban took effect in 1978, a 1996 Consumer Product Safety Commission survey of playgrounds in 26 states found over 62 percent had "unsafe" levels of lead in painted surfaces.)
Playgrounds should not contain the following equipment:
Chain or cable walks
Multiple occupancy swings/gliders (tire swings are okay)
Swinging exercise rings/trapeze bars
Individual climbing ropes
More on: Childhood Safety