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Playground Injuries Don't See-Saw

Half a million kids are hurt annually on the 'fun' equipment

SUNDAY, June 10, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- With the increased use of soft ground coverings and innovative new equipment, playgrounds have become a lot safer in recent years. But we're still a long way from preventing many injuries to kids, experts say.

Doctors and hospitals still treat more than 509,000 playground-related injuries annually at a cost of almost $10 billion, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

"There seems to be this attitude among some that they can't afford to maintain playgrounds to the extent people ask. But I think the numbers show that we can't afford not to," says Dr. Stuart Hirsch, chairman of the AAOS' communications counsel.

"The high cost of treating the injuries is much more than the cost of design and maintenance," he adds.

The biggest playground-injury culprit in 1999 was the climbing equipment, accounting for more than 169,500 injuries in kids under 20, according to statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The second-highest cause of injuries: swings, which injured more than 165,000 people under 20 the same year. Next were slides, 103,507 injuries; miscellaneous equipment, 59,226 injuries; and teeter-totters or seesaws, 11,853 injuries.

But the equipment isn't always to blame, says Dr. Joseph Lopreiato, an associate professor of pediatrics at Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md.

"In pediatrics, we like to say play should be 'age and developmentally appropriate.' So, in other words, you don't want to put an infant on a slide, and you wouldn't put a 4-year-old in a tiny chair," Lopreiato says.

Adds Hirsch: "You've got younger children who are out there with older kids or older siblings, and they're going to want to do the same things those older kids are doing. So parents really need to make sure to review the ability of the child in relationship to the equipment."

As part of its safety campaign "Prevent Injuries America!", the AAOS offers the following playground safety tips:

  • Avoid playgrounds built on concrete, asphalt or hard-packed dirt.
  • Steer children to age-appropriate equipment.
  • Check to see there's enough space for kids to easily get off equipment like a slide or merry-go-round. And don't let kids crowd around the exit areas.
  • Make sure swing seats are made of plastic or rubber; avoid metal or wood.
  • Be sure you can clearly see your children on the playground at all times.

Even that jacket your child wears can be dangerous, if it has a drawstring around the hood. Drawstrings can catch on playground equipment and strangle a child.

Ultimately, the responsibility for preventing injuries rests with the child's parents or guardians.

"The biggest problem we have by far is inadequate supervision by parents. Too many parents want to use the playground as a babysitter -- it's an easy thing to do," Lopreiato says. "But the fact is, you've really got to be up and closely watching the child's activities."

"There's no substitute for supervision," agrees Hirsch. "We can have the best surfaces and the best maintenance and the best design, but without parental supervision, none of it matters."

What To Do

Read more about preventing children's injuries in these HealthDay stories.

Visit the National Program for Playground Safety for more Playground Safety Tips.

Or see the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' Guide to Playground Safety for more information.

SOURCES: Interviews with Stuart Hirsch, M.D., chairman, communications counsel,American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; Joseph Lopreiato, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, Uniformed Services University, Bethesda, Md.; information from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
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