MAJORITY OF PUBLIC PLAYGROUNDS SURVEYED PLACE CHILDREN AT RISK
Consumer Federation of America and U.S. Public Interest Research Group Release Sixth National Survey
Washington, D.C. June 20, 2002 -- Hard surfacing, equipment that is too high, and swings that are too close together pose preventable hazards to children at a majority of public playgrounds across the country, according to Playing It Safe, a survey released today by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG).
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, almost 190,000 children were treated in hospital emergency rooms in 2001 as a result of injuries sustained on public playground equipment. Each year, between 15 and 20 children die as a result of playground injuries.
"Playgrounds can be wonderful places for children to have fun and face new challenges," said U.S. PIRG Research Director Alison Cassady, a co-author of Playing It Safe. "But children face serious injury on playgrounds when they fall from equipment that is too high onto surfacing that is too hard," continued Cassady.
"The Consumer Product Safety Commission has some voluntary guidelines but unfortunately we easily identified too many playgrounds that don't comply," added CFA Assistant General Counsel Rachel Weintraub, and a co-author of Playing It Safe. "Parents working with local officials can be effective advocates for safer playgrounds," continued Weintraub.
In their sixth national survey of public playgrounds, the PIRGs and CFA surveyed 1,037 playgrounds in 36 states and Washington, DC, including 51 in Washington, DC. The researchers focused on the hazards that cause the most serious playground injuries: falls, impact with moving swings, entanglement and head entrapment.
Because 80% of all injuries are caused by falls, protective surfacing under and around playground equipment is critical. At 75% of playgrounds across the country, researchers found inadequate surfacing. In Washington, DC, 29% of the playgrounds surveyed had inadequate surfaces. The report also found that 33% of climbers and 25% of slides in Washington, DC were more than six feet high. Nationally, 52% of climbers and 35% of slides were too high.
Impact with moving swings causes 69% of all swing injuries. Swings that are too close to each other or to other equipment increase the chance that a child will be hit by a moving swing. U.S. PIRG and CFA found swing hazards at 33% of playgrounds in Washington, DC, and 49% nationally. Surveyors also found that children can face strangulation hazards at 65% of Washington, DC playgrounds, because of head entrapment and clothing entanglement dangers caused by gaps, protrusions and other similar hazards.
The groups also found that 14% of the playgrounds they surveyed across the country and 10% in Washington, DC were made of wood that may be pressure treated. Some pressure treated wood may contain chromium copper arsenate (CCA), a known carcinogen. "We urge local authorities to test their playgrounds made out of wood for CCA. Children should not be exposed to toxic chemicals as they play on playgrounds," Weintraub said.
The groups noted that nine localities and fifteen states have passed some form of regulation to protect their children from playground hazards. These regulations come in many forms and by many authorities-the strongest laws mandate safety requirements for playground design, installation, and maintenance in all public playgrounds, while the weakest merely recommend that child care providers take a class on product safety. In the absence of a mandatory federal law, the groups stressed that state and local advocacy efforts are crucial to protect children from unsafe playgrounds.
The groups cited a 2002 study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health that documented a 22% decrease in the rate of injuries at childcare centers in North Carolina since the state enacted a requirement that all new playground equipment and surfacing in childcare facilities conform to CPSC guidelines. "Public health and injury prevention experts have advocated regulation as one strategy among many to reduce the risk of injury to children on playgrounds. This is the first study to my knowledge that has demonstrated a significant decrease in more serious playground injuries following improved child care playground safety regulations," stated Dr Jonathan Kotch, professor of maternal and child health and co-author of the UNC study.
CFA has produced a Model Law on Public Play Equipment and Areas that contains detailed provisions addressing safety and design for all play equipment and areas, as well as separate requirements for equipment used by both pre-school age and school age children. The groups encourage state and local jurisdictions to adopt these requirements and use them when purchasing new equipment or when refurbishing, remodeling or maintaining existing playgrounds. The model law is available on the web at www.safechild.net.
Consumer Federation of America is a non-profit association of 300 consumer groups, with a combined membership of more than 50 million people. CFA was founded in 1968 to advance the consumers' interest through advocacy and education.
U.S. PIRG is the national lobby office for the State Public Interest Research Groups. State PIRGs are non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy groups.
For parents who would like to check on their neighborhood playgrounds, CFA offers a free Parent Checklist: How Safe Is Your Local Playground? The checklist sets out 12 important factors to examine and includes an explanation of what is recommended for safer playgrounds, available free to individuals by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Playground Checklist, PO Box 12099, Washington, DC 20005-0999 or on the web at www.consumerfed.org.