Playgrounds - S.A.F.E.
National playground safety week was held across the US in May, demonstrating the often-understated importance of year-round maintenance and management to protect our most precious assets - children. We all have a duty to protect our youngest and most vulnerable members of society, and our housing authorities are one of our US public entity's most recognized stewards of that responsibility.
Playgrounds are most often considered an inherently safe space for children. They are a hub for adventure, enjoyment with friends, family memories, and places for communities to come together to make memories. Keeping playgrounds "S.A.F.E." involves a comprehensive understanding involving the community and the environment around them.
The Playground Injury Prevention framework consists of four elements that lay the foundation for safe play areas:
S = Supervision
A = Appropriate Environments
F = Fall Surfacing
E = Equipment Maintenance
Active supervision is a key strategy to ensure safe and positive play experience. It requires the housing authority to be aware and alert of the surrounding area. Routine inspection for potential hazards and maintenance needs is crucial. Use your knowledge of your visiting community members to develop and anticipate what may be needed on a playground. If you see something being used improperly that can cause harm, say something. If you note a potential hazard, zone it off until maintenance can be performed.
A crucial health and safety fact with outdoor environments is their level of appropriateness. Post signage to direct appropriate age use of equipment if necessary. Children who play on equipment that is too large or too small for their size, strength, and decision-making skills may be at risk for injuries. Are there nearby clean water sources to thwart heat exposure? Are there clean bathrooms nearby? Is the fencing in good shape to protect from animals and children running into nearby streets?
Over 70 percent of all injuries that occur on the playground involve falls, and the majority of those injuries involve children falling onto unsafe surfaces. Understanding the part adequate surface materials play in the prevention of playground inquiries is critical. Inappropriate surfacing materials include asphalt, cement, dirt, and concrete. Appropriate material examples include loose-fill material (wood products, sand, pea gravel, and crumb rubber) and unitary surface material (rubber tile, poured-in-place, and other artificial surfaces). The height of playground equipment influences the ability of a surface to provide adequate protection. Research has shown equipment higher than 5 feet doubles the probability of injury. Note that different materials provide protection at different maximum heights.
Nearly 60 percent of all injuries that result in litigation list lack of maintenance as the primary cause of injury. Equipment maintenance of play areas is much more than just fixing what is broken. Creating a well-designed maintenance program is proactive, responding to needs before crises occur. An in-depth maintenance plan should be developed during the infancy stages of planning the play area. Ensuring the safety of the area, environment, people, and equipment are all key components of a maintenance plan. When inspecting, look for rusty and breaking screws and equipment, shape edges and cuts, and even bolts in the fencing at a child's eye level.
When reviewing your playground for safety, try to see it through the eyes of a parent or grandparent. If your beloved child was there, what would you be looking for to protect them? Let's work together to keep our children and our community safe!