By Tom Peeples
I often hear the comment, “Today's playgrounds are being
made too safe.” Commonly, I hear something like, “How many injuries actually
occur on playgrounds anymore? Playgrounds are so safe now that they’re boring,
there’s no longer any challenge and they aren’t any fun. I used to swing over
asphalt and climb on bare steel pipes atop concrete and I made it to adult. So
why all the senseless hoopla about playground safety these days?”
I, too, as a child remember playing over asphalt, concrete,
sod and packed earth playground surfaces. I remember when playground equipment
was made mostly of metal, often very rusted metal. Many playgrounds were
composed of scrap construction materials: splintering lumber, rough cut
timbers, frayed metal cables, steel belted tires and discarded concrete
culverts with exposed wire and sharp edges, just to name a few.
In the not so distant past less attention was paid toward
playground safety. And I, as many others, had fun and made it through those
times intact. I’m not saying I didn’t have my share of knocks though, as I did.
What is NEISS?
Since those times, insights regarding playground injuries
have increased. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) operates a
statistically valid injury surveillance and follow-back system known as the
National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). The primary purpose of
NEISS has been to provide timely data on consumer product-related injuries.
NIESS receives data from 100 U.S. hospitals. Data is based on
the number of actual occurrences to the total number of possible occurrences. No.
In the United
States, it is estimated that more than 2
million people are treated in hospital emergency rooms involving playground
injuries per year, i.e., every two minutes someone is admitted to an emergency
room concerning playground injuries. That’s approximately 547 people per day. No.
We must remove the hazards, not risks from our playgrounds.
Risk vs. Hazard
Risk involves decision, something of which a decision is
made. No. 3 Hazard is something not seen and therefore a decision cannot be
made upon. No. 3
Example: Risk: a broken swing chain. A broken swing chain
can be seen; therefore a decision can be made.
Example: Hazard: improper playground surfacing material,
something not seen/recognized, therefore a decision cannot be made.
In the early 1900s the “playground movement,” through U.S.
manufacturers, designed and distributed a wide variety of playground equipment
to the nation’s parks and schools. This emanated from the concern about the
health and welfare of children playing in the streets. The virtues of play not
only contribute to physical development, but also help in the overall
development of the child. Research throughout the decades has confirmed the tenet
that play is essential for healthy, comprehensive human development and that it
is an indispensable element in the educative process. Thus, as playgrounds
contribute to the cognitive, social, emotional and physical development of a
child, playgrounds are among the most important environments for children
outside the home. No. 5
In today’s fast-paced and crowded society, with increased
mischief, gangs and violence, there are fewer and fewer natural environments
for our children to play. Its unfortunate that so many adults in this
quick-paced life seem to take children’s play for granted. Play is an essential
component of healthy development in children. Unfortunately, playgrounds are
often the sites of unintentional injuries. We must have playgrounds and, as
adults, we are responsible for creating play environments that are challenging
for children but also are reasonably safe. From their inception, playgrounds
must be designed, installed, inspected, maintained and repaired by
professionals specifically trained in the field of playgrounds and their
So, “Are Today’s Playgrounds Too Safe?” Playgrounds are
definitely being made safer today than in past, that’s the primary reason for
fewer injuries today. If we regress playground safety measures that are
currently in place, then in my opinion, more injuries will be the result.
Children are our future. Therefore, with all of the current
knowledge, data, information and training readily available dealing with
playground safety, why would we not make our playgrounds and play areas as
safe, fun and physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally beneficial to
our children as possible?
"It won't happen to me." But what if it does?
What if someone close to you dies or becomes permanently disabled from a
playground injury that very well could have been prevented if the necessary due
diligence had been applied?
The monetary costs of building and keeping playgrounds safe
is small in comparison to the personal trauma and expense experienced by an
injured party. Not to mention what is experienced by society as a whole and the
possible long term impact of ensuing litigation and drawn-out compensation that
can very well occur.
Are Today’s Playgrounds Too Safe? No, a playground will never be too safe. Our playgrounds must be created and managed to provide “risks”
that are as safe as feasibly possible. We must eliminate known hazards or it will be our
society who pays the toll.
No. 1) U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, (CPSC) - National
Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), CPSC Document #3002, http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/3002.html, http://www.cpsc.gov/library/neiss.html
No. 2) Injury and Death Investigated Associated with
Playground Equipment, 2001- 2008, Craig W. O'Brian, Division of Hazard
Analysis, Directorate of Epidemiology,
U.S. Consumer Product
Safety Commission, 4330 East West
Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814,
No. 3) Explanations of Risk vs. Hazard – Information
obtained at NRPA Playground Safety
No. 4) Playground Surfacing and Playground Injuries, Jennifer
a Himmelsbach, MS and Martyn R. Shorten, PhD BioMechanica, LLC, Portland,
Oregon, USA http://www.biomechanica.com/docs/publications/docs/Himmelsbach%20-%20Playground%20Surfaces.pdf
No. 5) The Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds, Association
for Childhood Education International, 2004, Joe L. Frost, Pei-San Brown, John
A. Sutterby, Candra D. Thornton.
(Peeples is owner of Peeples Playground Safety
Consulting, LLC, in Arvada, CO. He can reached by calling (720) 351?7309 or firstname.lastname@example.org