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In 1990, almost a quarter of a million children under age 15 were treated at hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to playground equipment, according to a study by the National Electronic Injury Sur-veil-lance System of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Many of these injuries could have been prevented by greater attention to playground design and maintenance and closer adult supervision.

Many ways exist to prevent playground injuries and to lessen the severity of injuries that do occur. The following table shows the results of an analysis of the NEISS data that categorized the manner in which injuries occurred.Percentages of all playground equipment injuries:Falls to surface - 58 percent *

Falls/struck same equipment - 14 percent

Falls/struck other equipment - 2 percent

Impact with moving equipment - 13.1 percent

Contact with stationary equipment - 5.4 percent

Contact with protrusions, pinch points, sharp edges, sharp points - 6.9 percent.

* Some numbers are roundedBecause falls are the most common type of playground accident, special attention should be paid to preventing falls and lessening their severity. Children fall because they slip, lose their grip or lose their balance while playing on monkey bars, swings, slides, merry-go-rounds and seesaws. Often they are hurt not only by the fall but by being struck by the equipment as they fall.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recently released information about playground safety recommendations. The essence of its recommendations is as follows:

Whether playground injuries are caused by falls or other types of contact, attention to three major factors can help to reduce the incidence of injury: playground surface, playground design and equipment installation and maintenance.

The type of surface on the playground is the most important factor in the number and severity of injuries due to falls. Obviously, hard surfaces such as asphalt and concrete would result in the most severe injuries and are unsuitable under any playground equipment. The number and severity of injuries can be reduced by using softer surfaces such as wood mulch or chips, shredded tires or sand. Soil, packed dirt, grass and turf are not recommended for surfacing, as their shock-absorbing ability can be affected greatly by weather conditions and wear.

A well-planned playground should offer activities to encourage the development of perception and physical skills, including running, walking, climbing, dodging, swinging, sliding, throwing, catching, pulling and pushing. There should be separate areas for active play, like swinging, and for quiet play, like digging in sandboxes. Spaces for preschoolers should be located away from areas where older, more active children play.

A "use zone" should be established around equipment, with adequate space for entering and exiting. Open fields should be located so children can run freely without the danger of colliding with other children or equipment. Zones for popular activities should be separate to avoid overcrowding. Pathways that link activity areas should provide for easy travel between areas and unobstructed vision for a child's height. Sight lines in all playground areas should be clear to allow proper adult supervision.

Playground equipment should be well-designed and made of materials proven durable when exposed to the weather. Equipment should be inspected regularly to identify any loosening, rust or corrosion, or deterioration from use, rot, insects or weathering.