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Recess Safety – Prevention at the Playground

Recess is an essential time for a child’s physical, social, and academic development. It is a means of staying active, making friends, and getting a nice break from their studies. While kids need the 20 – 30 minutes of fun and freedom in their school day, it is important to ensure that kids are also safe.

Accidents are bound to happen, but the statistics are frightening. Between 2001 and 2008, an average of 218, 851 school children required emergency care due to playground injuries. The more serious injuries involve falls on hard surfaces, head entrapment, and strangulation by entanglement. Most injuries resulted from design or maintenance defects and negligence.

Adult supervision is the single most important safety feature for playgrounds. When supervising school recess:

  • Enforce playground rules and ensure the kids are aware of them.
  • Do not allow children to wear loose clothing (e.g. necklaces, scarves, drawstrings) and require closed-toe shoes and tucked-in shirts.
  • Watch for hot play surfaces and have kids avoid them.
  • Encourage UVA/UVA sunscreen, sun glasses, and playing in shaded areas.
  • Encourage hydration; ensure a water fountain or water bottles are available.
  • Keep kids indoors when the heat index is at or above 90˚F or if the wind chill is at or below 15˚F.
  • Report maintenance issues to respective personnel.
  • Prohibit/Stop any roughhousing or equipment misuse.

Playground inspection and maintenance is also key.

  • Make sure all children play on age-appropriate equipment.
  • The greatest harm to your child is the height of the equipment they are playing on. Each piece of playground equipment has a recommended height threshold. For example, the balance beam for pre-K children should be no more than 12 inches off the ground.
  • Make sure surfaces around playground equipment have at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand, or pea gravel, or are mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like materials. The ground surface material should be at least 9 inches thick to provide the greatest protection in case of a fall. Unacceptable surfaces include concrete, asphalt, grass, blacktop, packed dirt, or rocks.
  • Check that protective surfacing extends at least 6 feet in all directions from play equipment. For swings, be sure surfacing extends, in back and front, twice the height of the suspending bar.
  • Make sure play structures more than 30 inches high are spaced at least 9 feet apart. Swings should be at least 24 inches apart and 30 inches between a swing and the support frame.
  • Make sure that the playground equipment does not have openings that could create an entrapment, such as openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs, measuring less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches.
  • Check for sharp points or edges in equipment.
  • Look out for tripping hazards, like exposed concrete footings, tree stumps, and rocks.
  • Make sure elevated surfaces, like platforms and ramps, have guardrails to prevent falls.
  • Equipment should be free of rust, splinters, and missing parts.
  • Structures must be anchored to the ground and ropes must be secured at both ends. There should be no open s-hooks, protruding bolts, exposed footings, rust, splinters, or missing parts.
  • Make sure that a teacher or adult is always supervising children when using the playground equipment.

With the power of knowledge and the simple tools of prevention, a safe world for children is within reach. It is equally important to increase public awareness to help prevent future injuries and deaths. In 1993, attorney Don Keenan established the Keenan’s Kids Foundation, a child safety organization dedicated to informing the public about child safety hazards. One of the foundation projects has been to establish basic standard of safety and maintenance for Atlanta’s playgrounds that will reduce the injuries suffered by children each year. By drawing attention to basic standards of safety for Atlanta playgrounds, the Keenan’s Kids Foundation’s goal is to increase public awareness that can be universally achievable.

Mark Bello has practiced law for 40 years. He is currently the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company, and the author of the two legal thriller novels, Betrayal of Faith and Betrayal of Justice (books available on major online book store sites).

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