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A Safe Backyard for Kids

Playing outside in the backyard is a natural pasttime for most kids. Keeping that outside environment safe is key to keeping children healthy and injury-free.

Home Playground Safety

Each year, more than 200,000 children go to emergency rooms for playground-related injuries. And while deaths from such injuries are rare, most happen at home.

Supervising your child at play is a big factor in reducing injury. And taking these playground precautions will also reduce risk:

  • Cover areas under and around the playground equipment with shock-absorbing material, such as sand, rubber, or mulch, 9-12 inches deep.
  • Make sure swing seats are made of soft rubber, not hard wood.
  • Don't suspend more than two swing seats in the same section of the equipment's support structure. Most home playground injuries can be blamed on swings.
  • The equipment should have ladders with steps rather than rungs for easier access, or rungs with more than nine inches or less than three and a half inches of space between them, to prevent children from getting stuck.
  • Cover all protruding bolts.
  • Do not attach ropes or cords to the play set, which could become strangulation hazards.
  • Plastic play sets or climbing equipment should never be used indoors on wood or cement floors, even if they're carpeted. All climbing equipment should be outdoors on shock-absorbing surfaces to prevent children's head injuries.
  • Slides and platforms should be no higher than six feet for school-age children, or four feet for pre-schoolers.
  • Platforms, walkways, ramps, and ladders should have adequate guardrails.
  • Protect against tripping hazards such as tree stumps, concrete footings, and rocks.
  • During hot summer days, check the temperature of the slides and swings, because they can become hot enough to cause burns to the skin.

Treated Wood Is a Risk for Kids

Arsenic in pressure-treated wood -- used in play sets, decks, and picnic tables across the country -- poses an increased risk of cancer to kids who play and eat on wood surfaces, according to the EPA.

Many outdoor wooden structures in the U.S. are made from arsenic-based treated wood. While the wood industry phased out production of this type of wood in 2003, existing structures are still a concern.

To protect your children from arsenic exposure, take the following measures:

  • Seal the wood at least once per year with standard penetrating deck treatments.
  • Replace potentially high-exposure sections such as handrails, steps, or deck boards with non-arsenic alternatives.
  • Keep children and pets away from the soil beneath and immediately surrounding arsenic-treated wood structures.
  • Cover arsenic-treated picnic tables with a tablecloth before using.
  • Do not pressure-wash to clean the surface of arsenic-treated wood. Instead, use a soap and water solution, with disposable cleaning supplies.
  • Do not allow children to play on rough wood surfaces. Arsenic-treated wood splinters can be dangerous.
  • Do not store toys or tools under the deck. Arsenic leaches from the wood when it rains and may coat things left there.
  • Do not use commercial "deck washing" solutions. These solutions can convert chemicals on the wood to a more toxic form.
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