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October 31, 2014

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A few rules can help your child stay safe at the playground

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Rebecca Clifford-Cruz

A view of a playground in the Sagewood community in Henderson Monday, Sept. 26, 2011.

Anyone who has bandaged a skinned knee can confirm that playgrounds can be rough-and-tumble places.

Each year, more than 200,000 children are injured on playgrounds nationally, mostly from falling off equipment, according to the National Program for Playground Safety.

Dangerous Playground Equipment Hall of Fame

People 40ish and older know there was a time when nobody paid much attention to playground safety.

Sure, kids got hurt all the time on equipment that featured bare steel, metal chains, rusty bolts and designs that all but guaranteed blood would be spilled. But it was all in good fun, right?

Among the hazardous attractions before playgrounds became safer:

Teeter-totters. Heavier kid goes down, lighter kid goes up. But then heavier kid jumps off, causing lighter kid to crash into the ground. How many bruised tailbones did teeter-totters cause? You might as well try to count the stars.

Jungle gyms. Bolt a bunch of metal pipes together like a skyscraper skeleton, and you had a kid magnet. Problem was, the kids wouldn’t stick. They’d occasionally fall through the middle of the skeleton, hitting pipe after pipe on the way down. Sharp, rusty fittings holding pipes together were a tetanus shot waiting to happen.

Metal slides. Beyond being scorchingly hot on summer days, metal slides offered practically no protection from falling into the surrounding sand, if you were lucky, or a weedpatch littered with cigarette butts and discarded pop tops if you weren’t.

Tetherball. Rope burns were the appetizer. The entrée was when a kid would wander too close to the game and catch the ball smack in his or her unsuspecting face.

Merry-go-rounds. Road rash and nausea — what fun! Get a bunch of kids involved, and they could generate serious RPMs. That would lead to kids being thrown off into the gravel or getting so dizzy they threw up.

— Ric Anderson

So how can parents keep their children happy, active and safe? By following a few basic safety rules and keeping a close watch on their little ones.

Come prepared

Before heading out of the house, give kids a once-over. Kathy Blaha, of Henderson’s Parks and Recreation Department, recommends parents nix any necklaces or outfits with hoods or strings that can become tangled on equipment and pose a choking hazard. Closed-toed shoes are a must.

Bring water, and grease up your child with sunscreen. Also, consider the weather. Play is riskier at temperatures above 90 degrees.

If you are bringing a bike or scooter, remove children’s helmets before they begin playing, to prevent the helmet from getting caught on a piece of equipment and the chin strap from cutting off his or her air supply.

Pick the right playground

Many local playgrounds have two distinct play areas: one for big kids and another for children age 4 and under, which features equipment that’s properly sized for them.

Scan the playground

Before turning kids loose, parents should:

• Check for sharp points or edges on equipment.

• Look at the ground under the equipment. It should provide for a relatively soft landing on mulch, pea gravel, sand or rubber. If you see concrete, grass, asphalt, blacktop, packed dirt or rocks, find another playground.

• Look for damaged equipment and shards of glass.

• Especially in Nevada, check for hot surfaces. Burns are rare — only 29 injury reports from 2001 to 2008 mentioned them — but better safe than sorry.

We know this is your chance to get out of the house, too, and no one’s suggesting you pull a rotator cuff endlessly pushing your child on the swing.

But it’s crucial that you keep an eye on your children while they play. So put down your smartphone or magazine.

Our grade

The National Program for Playground Safety in its most recent nationwide review gave Nevada’s playgrounds a “B” for safety. Our public playgrounds had well-maintained equipment, age-appropriate features and safe surfaces to fall on but lacked adequate supervision.

Playground injuries

Nearly 220,000 preschool and elementary-age children visited emergency rooms for injuries suffered on playgrounds between 2001 and 2008.

• 51 percent of the injuries happened on public playground equipment.

• 67 percent involved falls or equipment failures.

• 40 children died from playground injuries.

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