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Are your kids OK at the playground?

Swings and slides are fun, but they can be hazardous if not maintained. Rachel Weintraub of the Consumer Federation of America shares tips to keep your kids safe.
/ Source: TODAY

Playgrounds are the place for fun and exercise, but they can also be dangerous. In 2002, more than 215,000 children age 14 and under were treated in hospital emergency rooms for playground injuries. And as parents will tell you, these accidents can happen when you least expect them. Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety and assistant general counsel for the Consumer Federation of America, was invited to appear on “Today” to share some advice on playground safety. Here are her tips:

The statistics are alarming for playground accidents. When do most accidents happen?
Most accidents occur when children fall from playground equipment that is too high onto surfacing that is too hard.

When going to the playground, what should parents do before leaving the house?
Parents should make sure that children are not wearing clothing with loose strings, are not wearing scarves, and are not wearing their bicycle helmets when they play on playground equipment.

How can you determine whether your child is playing at a safe playground?
There are a number of things that a parent should evaluate to determine whether the playground is safe. It takes a bit of preparation, but the has a useful checklist that parents can use. In addition, a parent should always supervise their child when playing on a playground.

Let's talk about a few of the areas on your checklist and tell us what we should be looking for in each:

  • Height of equipment:
    -Equipment should not exceed 6 feet for playgrounds intended for school-age children
    -Equipment should not exceed 4 feet for playgrounds intended for preschool-age children.
  • Surfacing:
    -Loose fill materials should be between 9 and 12 inches.
    -Unitary synthetic surfaces are acceptable.
    -Grass, cement, dirt are unacceptable.
  • Fall zones (defined as areas around playground equipment that are free of other equipment and have protective surfacing):
    -For most equipment there should be a fall zone of at least 6 feet in all directions.
  • Swings:
    -Fall zones should be twice the height of the pivot point in front and in back of the swings
    -Swings should be at least 24 inches apart and 30 inches from the support structure
    -Swing seats should not be made of a rigid material
    -Swings should not be attached to any other type of equipment
    -Infant swings should be in a separate swing bay
    -No more than two swings should be within the same support structure.

Parents should also be aware of the following dangers when at a public playground or in a backyard:

  • Entanglement hazards:
    -Fall zones should be twice the height of the pivot point in front and in back of the swings
    -Open "S" hooks, especially on swings
    -Gaps, openings, holes or protrusions on equipment that may act as a catch point
  • Entrapment hazards:
    -Openings between parts of equipment, such as railings, that are between 3.5 and 9 inches may cause head entrapment
  • Obstacles:
    -Does the playground have exposed concrete footings, debris or tree roots that could create a trip hazard?
  • Equipment surfaces and construction:
    -Check for chipped or peeling paint, cracking metal components, or loose splinters on wood
    -Are guardrails or other parts of equipment missing?
    -Determine if equipment is anchored properly to prevent tip-overs

Rachel Weintraub is director of product safety and assistant general counsel for the Consumer Federation of America. For more playground safety information, you can check out the Consumer Federation of America Web site at: