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Attention Parents: Be Sure Backyard Play Sets Are Safe


WebMD Health News

Aug. 2, 2001 (Washington) -- That old jungle gym in your backyard may be a safety nightmare for your children.

Unsafe backyard playground equipment is responsible for the deaths of 90 children and for thousands of injuries. Children under 5 are particularly at risk, according to a study released by the Consumer Products Safety Commission, or CPSC, on Thursday.

The CPSC study found that between 1990 and 2000, 90 of the 147 playground-related deaths involving children under 15 occurred on home playground equipment.

A majority of the backyard deaths were due to children inadvertently hanging themselves on ropes or cords that were not originally part of the playground equipment but had been added later. For this reason, CPSC chairwoman Ann Brown said that ropes or similar devices should never be added to play sets.

"The statistics related to preschool-aged children are of special concern," Brown said. In more than 46,000 playground injuries that occurred in 1999, nearly half involved children who were younger than age 5.

This higher rate of injury in preschool-aged children may be due to the fact that they are more likely to play at home than on public playgrounds, most of which have shock-absorbing material such as rubber or mulch on the ground, which can prevent injuries if a child falls. The CPSC study found that only 9% of home playgrounds had proper ground material, compared with about 80% of the public playgrounds.

Adding shock-absorbing ground material is one of the most important improvements parents can make to backyard equipment because it can minimize head injuries, the CPSC's Scott Wolfson tells WebMD. Grass and dirt are too hard, he says.

The cost of the equipment itself does not determine how safe it is for kids to use, Brown added. "It's not a matter that rich kids will be on safe equipment and poor kids will be on unsafe equipment," she said. "You can find well-priced playground equipment with new safety standards built in," she said, noting that all equipment at stores now should meet CPSC requirements.

A few safety improvements could help prevent many backyard tragedies, said Brown at the press conference, which was held in the backyard of a home in Bethesda, Md., complete with examples of a proper play set and an unsafe one. The CPSC and the nonprofit group KaBOOM! have developed a safety checklist for parents to use to ensure that their backyard equipment and surrounding area is up to snuff. By following the checklist, "parents can make home playgrounds a place where kids can have fun and play safely," she said.

Wolfson tells WebMD that safe home playground areas should have the following features:

  • Shock-absorbing material, such as rubber or mulch, 9 inches deep around the equipment.
  • Swing seats made of soft rubber, not hard wood.
  • Ladder rungs with more than 9 inches or less than 3.5 inches of space between them, to prevent children from getting stuck.
  • Covers on all protruding bolts.
  • No additional ropes or cords attached to the play set.

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