Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Study finds playgrounds safer, but not enough

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        America's playgrounds appear to be getting safer, but not fast enough, according to a study to be published today by researchers at Children's Hospital Medical Center.

        Years of gradual improvements in playground design — from rubberized play surfaces to reducing the height of slides and climbing equipment — appear to have cut the playground injury rate in half.

        However, the proportion of moderate to severe injuries involving playground falls remains higher than the rate of serious injuries from car crashes and bicycle accidents. Some parents might be surprised by the study's finding that more playground injuries happen at schools, day care centers and in their own back yards than at public park playgrounds.

        “Injuries due to falls from playground equipment in the United States result in an unacceptably high number of (emergency) visits. Indeed, the results of these analyses indicate that the severity of playground injuries has been under-appreciated,” wrote Dr. Kieran Phelan, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital and lead author of the playground study.

        The study, published in the medical journal Ambulatory Pediatrics, analyzed data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Care Survey, which reported hundreds of

        thousands of emergency room visits involving playground injuries from 1992-97.

        The report stated that emergency visits dropped from 187,000 in 1992 to 98,000 in 1997. Each year, 15 to 20 of those injuries were fatal.

        While the figures appear to reflect progress in improved playground design, the researchers did not draw that conclusion with confidence. Record-keeping at hospitals nationwide ranged too widely to make a statistically sound conclusion that injury rates have declined, Dr. Phelan said.

        In recent years, Cincinnati has rebuilt playgrounds in Price Hill, Mount Washington, Pleasant Ridge and Northside as part of the national 1000 Hands Project.

        These parks include thick mulch or rubber-like padding under and around playground equipment. The playground equipment isn't as high and more areas are clearly set aside for small children.

        Ohio and Indiana get a C+ and Kentucky gets a C from the National Program for Playground Safety, a clearinghouse on playground issues based at the University of Northern Iowa that has reviewed more than 3,000 public playgrounds nationwide.

        All three states were criticized for not providing separate equipment for 2- to 5-year-olds and 5- to 12-year-olds, and not providing enough signs posting playground rules.

        For more information, contact the National Program for Playground Safety at (800) 554-PLAY or via the Internet at www.uni.edu/playground


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