Many Playground Design Features Unsafe, Experts Say

Although playground design and equipment has improved significantly in recent years, experts say safety concerns remain, USA Today reports. Annually, almost 200,000 children go to the emergency room with playground injuries, and 90,000 of the cases involve serious injuries such as fractures, concussions and amputations, according to Chrissy Cianflone of Safe Kids USA.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission notes that most injuries occur when children fall from equipment, highlighting the importance of placing shock-absorbent surfaces beneath swings and climbing structures. According to the commission, communities should not construct play structures over concrete, asphalt, dirt or grass, but rather on shredded rubber, wood chips and wood mulch, which offer the best surfaces for preventing injuries.

However, a 2007 report on the safety of rubber playground chips in California found that nearly 70 percent of the surfaces were not sufficiently shock-absorbent to cushion falls.

Many communities also neglect to properly maintain the playgrounds by raking or refilling the loose materials designed to cushion falls, says Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Some environmental groups have expressed concern over children’s exposure to toxins present at playgrounds, such as the lead in shredded rubber, or arsenic present in older wooden structures.

Despite the potential risks associated with playgrounds, the structures do facilitate outdoor play, which can curb childhood obesity, says Maida Galvez of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. She said that parents, schools and community leaders should support the development of safe playgrounds for children (Szabo, USA Today, 7/29/09).