From Our 2012 Archives

Playground Injuries Often More Serious at Home

Study Finds Greater Risk of Severe Injuries on Home vs. Public Equipment

By Brenda Goodman, MA
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

March 2, 2012 -- Parents who are thinking about installing a backyard play set may want to start planning from the ground up. A new study shows that playground injuries are more likely to be severe when they occur at home.

The reason? Landing surfaces under home play sets often aren't as safe as the recycled rubber, sand, or mulch that's frequently used under public equipment.

Tracking Playground Accidents

For the study, researchers reviewed the circumstances behind nearly 40,000 playground injuries to children aged 3 to 12 who were treated in Canadian emergency rooms from 1995 to 2008.

Researchers focused on three types of equipment: climbing sets like monkey bars and jungle gyms; swings, and slides.

Injuries were considered minor if children were patched up and released, and severe if they had to remain in the hospital either for observation or treatment.

Kids were less likely to get hurt on a backyard play set than on public equipment. Only 16% of the injuries in the study happened at home. Researchers say that's probably because so many more kids play on public equipment than have access to home play sets.

But when children did get hurt at home, their injuries were more serious.

Compared to kids injured on public playgrounds, kids who got hurt at home had 30% greater odds of remaining in the hospital for their injuries and nearly 50% greater odds of having a broken bone, especially a broken leg.

Falls appeared to pose the greatest danger to kids, especially falls from slides.

Young children, those aged 3 through 5, who took a tumble from a slide at home had 72% greater odds of a severe injury and more than double the odds of a fracture, compared to tots who fell from slides at schools, day cares, and parks.

The study is published in the journal Injury Prevention.

Advice to Parents

Landing surfaces under home play sets have been singled out as safety hazards before.

A 2000 report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that's cited in the study found that less than 10% of home playground equipment had proper landing surfaces, compared to 80% of public playgrounds.

When setting up playground equipment at home, "parents should be diligent in using proper landing surfaces, such as those found in public playgrounds," the researchers conclude.

According to the CPSC, hard surfaces like asphalt and concrete aren't safe choices under home equipment. But neither are grass and dirt since rain and traffic can reduce their shock-absorbing qualities.

Better choices, the agency says, are loose materials like wood mulch, engineered wood fiber or shredded and recycled rubber mulch filled to minimum depth of 9 inches. The agency also recommends professionally installed poured-in-place surfaces or rubber tiles.

SOURCES: Keays, G. Injury Prevention, published Feb. 17, 2012.Consumer Product Safety Commission: "Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook," updated 2009.

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