Springtime. Your children have likely been busy digging in the dirt, dangling from the trees and swinging on swing sets. But, it’s not all fun and games. As your children return to the wilds of the great outdoors this season, be sure they are protected against the dangers that may loom right in your backyard.

“During 1999, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimated that about 156,000 victims were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with public playground equipment,” according to the National Playground Safety Institute. “About three-fourths of these injuries resulted from falls, primarily to the surface on which the equipment was located. Other hazard patterns involved impact by swings and other moving equipment and contact with protrusions, crush or shear points, and sharp edges. Fatalities reported to the CPSC resulted from falls, entanglement of clothing or similar items on equipment.”

To combat these dangers, the CPSC has done extensive research and created a set of guidelines for playground planning and maintenance. These guidelines have prompted states to take additional precautions in the building projects of play areas. Also, states now increasingly take measures regarding the maintenance of their existing playgrounds in order to avoid future injuries and lawsuits.

The National Playground Safety Institute (NPSI) oversees certified playground safety inspectors who work around the country to ensure that playgrounds in public areas conform to CPSC guidelines. If such public play areas do not meet criteria, the certified safety inspectors provide a plan on how to bring the playgrounds up to the proper standards. These inspectors are well-versed in all aspects of playground construction, from funding to finishing projects. Many instructors are available for private consultation.

Similar to officials in the public sector, shouldn’t we as parents take steps to make sure that our play areas at home are as safe as public play areas? Currently, no standards exist for the play areas in private residences or for Homeowners Associations. However, we as parents should take it upon ourselves as our children’s protectors to be cognizant of the hazards in our yards, and plan accordingly to create safe places to place.

Rather than completely redo every play area in and around a home, parents just need to be aware of the many dangers in any given play area and be prepared to address them. The goal: to make private play areas as safe as possible.

Safety Checkpoints
There are a few guidelines that we parents and caregivers can follow to ensure that our children and neighbors are protected against mishaps caused by injuries around the exterior of the home. An added bonus, when safety comes first, lawsuits often don’t follow.

1. Place ample cushioning under all play areas. This helps to avoid injuries when children play on high play structures and slides— and even when kids jump out of trees and other natural structures. The CPSC has developed a formula to determine the cushioning needed for various equipment heights. Check out the CPSC’s Web site at www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/325.pdf to familiarize yourself with the cushioning guidelines. These specifications and guidelines should be addressed by all reputable equipment manufacturers, as well.

2. Look for conditions in the backyard that might encourage bacteria or fungi growth that could harm children. Be vigilant about mosquito and other insect control. Be mindful of muddy areas and precarious conditions such as rotting wood chips.

3. Repair or alter sharp objects protruding from play structures. Also pay attention to jagged rocks, roots, branches and other natural elements. Such risky objects and natural elements are trip hazards and may cause scrapes, cuts and bruises, and snag clothing and hair.

4. Confirm that all materials in your backyard are friendly to the environment, nontoxic and not a choking threat. Avoid products with lead, creosote, arsenic, TDI and other carcinogens.

Actively pursue children’s safety at play. You never want to have to react to the problems caused by an unsafe play environment.

The precautions listed can go a long way toward avoiding injuries and lawsuits. Doing some small planning and fixing in your backyard helps prevent you from inadvertently causing harm to your children and their playmates. It is important to be diligent in anticipating these problems as early as possible. And address concerns as soon as you see them.

There are many items on the market that enhance the look of your playground while helping to protect your children from outdoor dangers. These products can be found by doing a simple Internet search for “safety surfacing.” Another idea is to visit a local public playground certified by the NPSI to see how the play area is modeled for safety.

If you’re moving or intend to change your landscape, look into the NPSI playground safety requirements to plan or update your children’s play areas.

Help protect your children from injuries and yourself from lawsuits, and enjoy many seasons filled with happy memories and safe play.