Are We Safe Yet? A Twenty-Five Year Look at Playground Safety. by Susan D. Hudson , Donna Thompson , Mick G.

Mack %20Twenty-Five%20Year%20Look%20at%20Playground%20Safety Playgrounds have always been an integral part of the recreation movement. In fact, the origin of the public recreation movement has been traced to the creation of a "sand box" at the Boston Parameter Church in the late 1800s. Today, thousands of playgrounds are found throughout the United States. For purposes of this article, playgrounds are defined as designated areas where stationary and manipulative equipment are located to facilitate a child's physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development. However, the development of playgrounds has not been without problems. In the early 1970s, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission first alerted the public to the growing problems of injuries related to children playing on our nation's playgrounds (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 1975). As reported by Bowers, in 1974, approximately 118,000 persons in the United States received hospital emergency room treatment for injuries related to playground equipment (1979). More than three fourths of the reported injuries involved children under 10 years of age. Today, that number has dramatically risen to more than 200,000 a year (Mack, Hudson, & Thompson, 1997). This article will look at the issues and problems surrounding playground safety in America and the role that Leisure Today and members of the American Association for Leisure and Recreation (AALR) have played in striving to make playgrounds safe for America's children. Playground Safety Issues Two members of the AALR Committee on Play have identified four major elements that interact to create safe playground environments. The four elements--age appropriate design, surfacing, supervision, and maintenance--are shown in figure 1 (Thompson & Hudson, 1996). [Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] Age Appropriate Design. In 1979, Bowers wrote, "Could it be that the design of traditional play equipment is inappropriate for the natural play of children? What are the alternatives? Should we redesign the play, ground or the child?" (p.43). He went on to state that since we should not change the natural play of children, we should redesign the playground. Among the ideas that Bowers postulated were (1) designing playgrounds that accommodated children of differing ages, physical sizes, and abilities and (2) providing safe distances between one level to the next on equipment. Beckwith (1985) also stated the challenges of design as being "the development of design criteria of extraordinary subtlety and complexity. The environmental designer is challenged to provide appropriate

play spaces for users ranging from infants to adults and having physical abilities from near immobility to above average athletic skill" (p. 68). While the authors of Leisure Today were alerting the profession to the needs of age appropriate design, another group within AALR was formed to raise concern about playground safety. The Committee on Play, formed in 1983, is a loosely knit consortia whose members are dedicated to children and their rights to play. Among their goals have been (1) evaluating playgrounds and suggesting improvements, (2) determining design criteria for playgrounds, (g) determining function and purpose of play equipment, and (4) determining the use of durable, economical, and safe materials. In 1985, 1986, and 198889, the committee conducted three different surveys about the state of the nation's playgrounds. In all three surveys (schools, community parks, and preschool) it was found that a "one size fits all" mentality has been present in playground design. As one of the early members of the Committee on Play has written, "playgrounds still tend to be hazardous and inappropriate for the developmental needs of children" (Worthman, 1996, p. 9). In order to produce age appropriate playgrounds, health, physical education and recreation professionals need to heed the information that has been produced in Leisure Today and the four publications of the Committee on Play. This information includes: 1. Assess the age appropriate design of playgrounds through an understanding of (a) the correct size of equipment, (b) the developmental needs of children, and (c) the physical layout of equipment to support positive play activities. 2. Choose age appropriate equipment by combining age and developmental characteristics of children with (a) safety guidelines, (b) maintenance considerations, (c) site constraints, (d) location, and (e) cost. 3. Become advocates for all playgrounds in the community to be designed age appropriately. Surfacing. Surfaces found under and around playground equipment have also been a topic addressed in Leisure Today. As early as 1979, Bowers alerted readers to the fact that three fourths of all the playground injuries reported by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for 1974 were caused by falls to the ground or to other equipment. He went on to say that providing a more resilient landing surface will reduce the seriousness of the injury sustained by the child in a fall. In 1991, Thompson wrote that asphalt, cement, dirt, and grass are not appropriate surfaces to be under and around playground equipment. Research shows that more than 150,000 children have been injured annually from falling off playground equipment. The Committee on Play has also played a part in alerting HPER professionals about the problems of improper surfaces. Bruya and Langendorfer (1988) wrote of the unsuitable surfaces found on the majority of school playgrounds and Beckwith (1985) also discussed

the importance of cushioning material under and around play equipment. All HPER professionals should (1) evaluate the current surfacing that is present under playgrounds within their jurisdiction and immediately replace any asphalt, concrete, dirt, or grass surfaces with a more resilient surface and (2) select proper surfacing under and around equipment with regard to environmental conditions, management requirements, characteristic of users, maintenance requirements, and equipment characteristics. Supervision. Although leadership has always been an important aspect of recreation activities, the specific references to the need for supervisors on the playground have not been present in Leisure day articles. However, articles concerning the importance of good supervision as a deterrent to recreation injuries have appeared as recently as September 1996. It should be noted that: lack of supervision has been cited as a contributing factor in 40 percent of playground injuries (King, 1991). Equipment is not designed to supervise children; only alert, caring adults can provide adequate supervision. This fact was noted by Bruya (1988) in the Committee on Play's publication, Play Spaces for Children: A New Beginning. Stressing that teachers should work with students in providing a safe play environment, Bruya writes, "the reexamination of the responsibilities of the playground supervision, and the emphasis on child controlled safety processes lead to the conclusion that the supervisor is there to assist and guide children" (p. 135). HPER professionals need to (1) look at current supervisory plans and evaluate whether or not they are appropriate for current playground use patterns, (2) make sure that selected supervisory techniques fit the purpose, users, equipment and site, and (3) continually try to enhance supervisory practices to provide a safe environment for children. Maintenance. As cited in a 1979 Leisure Today article, a 1973 University of Iowa Playground Accident Report indicated that slightly under half of investigated playground accidents resulted from poor construction and inadequate maintenance (Bowers). Bowers went on to say, "a sound design should be combined with strong materials which are nontoxic, durable, and appropriate to climatic conditions of the region. Quality construction and continuing maintenance are necessary for providing an enjoyable and safe play environment" (p.45). Thompson (1991) also states the need for maintenance in providing safe surfaces for playgrounds. In addition, contributing members of the AALR Committee for Play have all pointed to the need for better maintenance on our nation's playgrounds. In the same light, the National Action Plan for the Prevention of Playground Injuries recommends that all people who control playground areas should (1) review maintenance policies and procedures to ensure that there are routine, recurring inspections and preventative work as well as repair work to eliminate potential hazards, and (2) continually update maintenance policies and procedures to ensure that a sate playground involvement is provided. The Future of Playground Safety

Although the American Association for Leisure and Recreation has attempted to inform all AAHPERD members about the importance of playground safety, more needs to be done to ensure that our nation's children are safe. AALR and AAHPERD could pursue the following actions in the future. Creation of New Playground Designs. As Bowers stated back in 1979, there is a need for new, innovative playground design that fosters creativity, exploration, as well as social, intellectual, physical, and emotional development. Leisure professionals need to lend guidance to playground manufacturers in order to help create more appropriate designs for children. Two fundamental questions need to guide this process: (1) Why do children play? and (2) How does equipment contribute to the development of the child? Since play has been a frequent topic in Leisure Today, HPER professional should continue to advocate putting theory into practice with creative playground design. Invention of new playground surfaces. Playground surfaces have been associated with more than 70 percent of the injuries sustained by children through the '90s (Mack, Hudson, & Thompson, in press). Part of the problem is that too many playgrounds, as cited in the work of AALR Committee on Play, still have inappropriate playground surfaces. Educational programs concerning the availability of better surfaces need to be conducted. However, since the perfect playground surface has not yet been invented, a word of caution needs to be given. It is up to HPER professionals who have the application knowledge to work with manufacturers who have the technical knowledge to produce a better surfacing for the future. Training for Playground Supervisors. Since 40 percent of playground injuries are associated with supervision, it appears that supervision practices deserve some attention. Professionals associated with schools, parks, and child care centers need training in order to be better supervisors. AALR, through its Committee on Play, could develop a series of seminars to help teachers, recreation and child care professionals, and parents increase their ability to supervise children on the playground. Leisure Today could help in this educational process by providing members with information concerning safe supervision practices. Training for Playground Maintenance Workers. Similar to the training of playground supervisors, another neglected group has been the maintenance workers who install and maintain playground equipment and surfacing. As part of their training, these individuals need to be taught how to install and maintain playgrounds properly so that play environments are safe for children. Thus, training programs need to be developed as well as methods of delivering the materials that are cost effective to the individuals who need the training. Provision of Play Opportunities for all children. Throughout the 25 years of Leisure Today articles have been written concerning the inclusion of children on playgrounds (Bowers, 1979; Keller & Hudson, 1991). New impetus for appropriate playgrounds for all children came with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1991. Today, all HPER professionals should be advocates for the rights of all children to play in a safe

environment. Overall, Leisure Today has mirrored the issues and challenges that have faced HPER professionals for 25 years. The provision of safe playgrounds has been a topic that has been included in these issues since the '70s. Future issues of Leisure Today should include articles that will reflect ways HPER professionals, working together, are able to make America's playgrounds safe. References Beckwith, J. (1985). Play Environments for All Children. Leisure Today: Journal of, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 56(5), 32-35. Bowers, L. (1979). Toward a science of playground design: principles of design for play centers for all children. Leisure Today: Journal of Health, Physical Education & Recreation, 50(8), 51-54. Bruya, L. D., & S. J. Langendorfer (eds.), (1988). Where Our Children Play: Elementary School Playground Equipment, Vol. 1 American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance. Reston, VA Bruya, L. D. (ed.) (1988). Play spaces for children: A new beginning. Vol. II, American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance. Reston, VA Keller, M.J., & Hudson, S. D. (1991). Creating play environments for therapeutic recreation experiences. Leisure Today: Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, & Dance, 62(4), 41-44. King, S. (1991). Developing a safe playground is everyone's responsibility. Paper presented at the Minneapolis Congress for Parks and Recreation, Minneapolis, MN. Mack, M., Hudson, S., & Thompson, D. A. (1997). A descriptive analysis of children's playground injuries in the United States: 1990-1994. Injury Prevention, 3, 100-103. Mack, M., Hudson, S., & Thompson, D. (in press). An Analysis of Playground Surface Injuries. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. Thompson, D. (1991). Safe Playground Surfaces: What Should be Used Under Playground Equipment. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 62(9), 7475. Thompson, D., & Hudson, S. D. (1996). National Action Plan for the Prevention of Playground Injuries. National Program for Playground Safety, Cedar Falls, IA. University of Iowa. Accident Prevention Section, Institute of Agricultural Medicine. (1973, October). Public Playground Equipment: Product Investigation Report (No. FAA

73-6). Iowa City, IA, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Bureau of Epidemiology (1975). Hazard Analysis: Playground Equipment. Washington, DC. Worthman, S. (1996). A brief history of playgrounds in the United States. In Play it Safe, An Anthology of Playground Safety. Arlington, VA: National Recreation and Park Association. Susan D. Hudson is the project associate of the National Program for Playground Safety at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0618. Donna Thompson is the director of the National Program for Playground Safety and Mick G. Mack is the project coordinator of the National Program for Playground Safety at the University of Northern Iowa. -1Questia Media America, Inc. Publication Information: Article Title: Are We Safe Yet? A Twenty-Five Year Look at Playground Safety. Contributors: Susan D. Hudson - author, Donna Thompson - author, Mick G. Mack - author. Journal Title: JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance. Volume: 68. Issue: 8. Publication Year: 1997. Page Number: 32+. COPYRIGHT 1997 American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD); COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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