In fact, with the exception of six states that have enacted laws regulating the safety of playground equipment, there are no legal mandates for playground design or upkeep, Weintraub says, putting hundreds of thousands of children at risk.
Dr. Donna Thompson, director of the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS), whose most recent study in April 2000 included over 3,000 playgrounds nationwide, reports that the nation's playgrounds only rank a C for overall safety. "We believe children deserve an A playground," she says.
Some of the gravest hazards the two groups found at the country's playgrounds are:
- Inadequate protective ground surfacing
- High equipment
- Possible head entrapment areas
- Insufficient room for children to fall safely
Nationally, US PIRG and CFA found that 80 percent of playgrounds lacked safe ground surfaces. Weintraub says this is the most alarming finding because 75 percent of playground injuries are the result of falls, and in many cases a resilient surface beneath equipment could prevent or reduce these injuries. Surfaces made of rubber or a loose fill, wood chips or pea gravel between nine and 12 inches in depth, are recommended, she adds. Grass and dirt, which are often found under equipment, are dangerous because they won't give and absorb a fall.
Another major shortfall is high equipment. The report identified this as a problem about 48 percent of the time. US PIRG and CFA recommend that equipment for toddlers and preschoolers (children ages two to five) be four feet or less in height, and that equipment for kids ages five to 12 be six feet or less. Additionally, 31 percent of the playgrounds lacked adequate fall zones, areas where children could safely drop from equipment without hitting any obstructions.