How safe is your child's school playground?

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) - Each year, 1,700 students are injured on school playgrounds.  As National Playground Safety Week kicks off the Salt Lake County Health Department, the Utah Department of Health, LuckyDog Recreation, and school administrators at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School gave a tutorial on the what they look out for when inspecting school equipment. 

As an environmental health scientist with the Salt Lake County Health Department, Zach Torres-George, is tasked with inspecting school playgrounds.  Here he describes what he looks for.

"One of the first things that I look for when I get to a playground is to make sure that there's appropriate soft surface.  So, this surface is great for helping to cushion falls," said Torres-George.   "Another thing I'm looking for is making sure that the anchoring on the playground are properly covered so there's no concrete that people can trip on or fall on.  First thing on the playground itself, I will look for solid joints, that nothing is loose or wobbly, and making sure there aren't any missing bolts or nuts or things like that."

He also looks for areas where children could get caught on that could cause serious injury.  This morning, Torres-George spotted a few areas on a metal frame where a child could possibly get a finger stuck in that could lead to a broken bone or other injuries.  He also spotted one joint that could threaten the stability of the playground equipment.

"That's one thing I would recommend that schools keep track of  just to make sure it doesn't get looser or expand more," he said.

He's also looking for any loose and protruding bolts, missing or damaged parts, cracks in equipment, inadequate surface material, and animal droppings and feces on the grounds.  

According to the Utah Department Health 67.1% of student injuries in Utah elementary schools occurred on a playground.  Approximately, 1,700 students a year are injured on playgrounds. That's the equivalent of filling 24 school buses or 68 classrooms full of students.  The most common injuries were possible fracture/broken bones, cut/lacerations, and bump/bruises/contusions.  And the most common activities associated with those injuries were playing on bars, running, and walking.  Falls were the cause of 37.8% of playground injuries, followed by slipping/tripping, and collisions.

"It's important that we maintain the safety of the children here at the school," says Woodrow Wilson Principal Christine Christensen.

During his inspection today, Torres-George found a few areas that could pose a threat and recommended the school keep an eye on those areas so they don't become a problem.  He suggested the school place plastic plugs in a few metal frames that had small openings where a child's finger could become stuck inside and also a joint that was loosening.  He noted that the school has been keeping the equipment up-to-date pointing out to the fact that one of the slides had been changed not too long ago. 

"The school is maintaining their equipment and changing as necessary," said Torres-George.

School officials also make sure to check their equipment once a month, the principal along with the school custodian check the equipment and make a list of items that must be taken care of.

"He has a list of work orders that he'll be putting in today and our maintenance department is very good at responding and getting those things fixed very quickly," said Christensen.  "But, the inspections by the health department are especially important because they see things that we don't and so they see things that could be potential hazards that we can get fixed so it doesn't become a problem."

Because with more than 700 students using the equipment each day, the health department and school officials want to make sure students are staying safe.  

The Utah Department of Health offers the following trips on how to keep school playgrounds safe:

  1. Establish and enforce playground safety rules.
  2. Always have trained adult supervisors present whenever children are playing on the equipment.  
  3. Develop a playground inspection and equipment maintenance checklist.
  4. promptly repair broken playground equipment and make sure proper surfacing materials are used. 
  5. schedule regular inspections. 

Basic safety tips: 

  • Actively supervise children on playgrounds.
  • Look for age-appropriate equipment and hazards such as rusted and broken equipment and dangerous surfaces. 
  • Teach students that pushing, shoving, and crowding can be dangerous on playgrounds.
  • Remove necklaces, purses, scarves or any other clothing that could get caught before going on the playground.
  • Avoid playgrounds with non-impact absorbing surface such as asphalt, concrete, dirt, grass, or gravel.
  • Surfacing should be at least 12 inches deep and extend at least 6 feet in all directions around stationary equipment.  
  • For swings, make sure that the surfacing extends, in the back and the front, twice the height of the suspending bar.  
  • Double check with your child's school and care center to make sure they have age-appropriate, well-maintained playground equipment.
  • If you see any hazards report them immediately and do not allow children to use equipment until it is safe.

Laws:

Utah Administrative Code R392-200 provides a list of health and safety requirements for public schools in Utah on things such as first aid training, equipment conditions, prescription medication, etc.  More details can be found here

Resources:

Children's Safety Network

Concussion ABCs

Public Playground Safety Handbook

National Program for Playground Safety

Safe Kids Worldwide

Utah Department of Health

Consumer Product Safety Commission


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