How Safe is Your Playground?

Chicago neighborhood playgrounds safety scores are improving but still low

(RxWiki News) Swings, slides and jungle gyms are standard sights in neighborhood playgrounds, but so are trips and falls. A safe playground can ensure fewer injuries from those falls.

A recent study looked at how safe the local playgrounds were throughout Chicago. Almost half were originally lacking in some safety and quality areas in 2009, but they are improving.

The biggest concern researchers found was that the surface of the ground at many playgrounds was not safe for absorbing kids' falls.

"Make sure your local playground is safe."

The study was led by Erin M. Allen, MD, from the Division of Academic General Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The researchers used a standardized survey for playground safety to assess approximately 500 playgrounds in 2009 and 2010. Many were assessed more than once, and the playgrounds that failed in 2010 were assessed again in 2011.

The researchers judged the playgrounds based on age-appropriate design, the ground surface for accidental falls, equipment maintenance and physical environment.

The researchers then compared the safety scores from each playground to the neighborhood, its child population, the race/ethnicity of its residents and the neighborhood's poverty level.

A little over half (55 percent) of the 467 playgrounds assessed in 2009 received scores high enough to be considered safe playgrounds.

In 2010, 61 percent of the 459 playgrounds surveyed received safe playground scores.

The categories the playgrounds did the worst in related to the surface of the ground for falls and equipment maintenance.

For example, among the playgrounds that used wood chips to absorb kids' energy during accidental falls, 99 percent of those playgrounds did not have the wood chips deep enough to actually cushion a fall.

The researchers found that fewer playgrounds were found in poorer neighborhoods and neighborhoods with a higher percentage of children. These neighborhoods also had a higher percentage of playgrounds that failed the safety scoring.

When the researchers revisited 154 playgrounds in 2011 that had failed in 2010, they found that the quality and safety of the playgrounds had improved slightly.

The average safety score had improved from 61 percent in 2010 to 67 percent in 2011.

"Since the playground improvement initiative began in 2009, considerable progress has been made in the safety scores, although access to high-quality playgrounds varies by neighborhood," the researchers wrote. "Many failing playgrounds can be brought up to standard with improvement in fall surfacing and equipment maintenance."

In a commentary accompanying the article, Nichole L. Hodges, MPH, and Gary A. Smith, MD, DrPH, noted the importance of having safe playgrounds available to children.

"Safe and accessible playgrounds give children the opportunity to challenge themselves and develop physically, mentally, and socially," they wrote.

They also noted that 75 percent of all playground injuries occur because of falls, so making safety adjustments to the playgrounds to ensure the ground surface is safe for falls is especially important to prevent injury.

The study was published January 21 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the Kohl's Cares for Kids Safety Network and the Community-Engaged Research Center Geospatial Analysis Mini-Grant. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
January 20, 2013