Summer appears to finally be showing her longed for face and if your kids are like my three and five year old’s, getting them outside is going to be a welcome blessing. Chicago Winters are tough on our adventurous and care free little souls but the warmer days bring with them some added concerns for parents.

Children have continuously been injured on playground and gym equipment due to defective playground equipment, improper playground surfaces and/or the property owner or operator’s failure to properly inspect or maintain the equipment. In my practice I have seen these types of injuries range from minor cuts and lacerations to severe fractures that require surgery. None of us want to see our little ones hurt so here are a few pointers to keep in mind as your children head out to play;

Under Illinois law, a hazard in a play area or playground is the responsibility of the playground owner, operator, and/or school.  Having a safe play area for our most precious little ones is crucial but the adults accompanying those kids also bear some responsibility in supervision. Young children are not always able to measure distances and have difficulty foreseeing dangerous situations and so you and your child’s supervisors need to be very observant of the areas you are letting your children play in.

The important factors in evaluating the safety of any playground area include investigating if proper surfaces are used, the design and spacing of the equipment followed by proper equipment inspection and maintenance by the owners and/or operators of the area.

Given that the most common playground injuries result from falls, a proper playground surface is one of the most important factors in reducing injuries.  When inspecting a playground for its suitability for your child, make sure that the surface under the playground equipment is both soft enough and thick enough to soften the impact of a child’s fall. Concrete, asphalt, and blacktop are unsafe and unacceptable. The cushioned surface should also extend at least 6 feet past the actual equipment. In addition, as a parent, be observant and look for possible dangers on the ground such as rocks, broken glass or standing water that could cause kids to slip and fall.

Playground equipment should be designed for three different age groups: infants and toddlers under 2, 2- to 5-year-olds (preschoolers), and 5- to 12-year-olds (school-age kids). Make sure your child is using the equipment that is appropriate for their age and ability. In the safest playgrounds, play areas for younger children are separated from those meant for older kids and signs clearly designate each area to prevent confusion.

Guardrails and protective barriers should be in place for elevated surfaces, including platforms and ramps. Be sure there are no spaces that could trap a child’s head, arm, or any other body part. All openings on equipment (for example, rungs on a ladder or bars on a guardrail) should measure less than 3½ inches or they should be wider than 9 inches.

Playground equipment with moving parts should be checked and should be free of any pinch points that could pinch or crush a child’s finger or hand. All hardware on equipment should be secure, with no loose or broken parts. There should not be any splintered or rusted surfaces. If the playground has a sandbox, check for objects such as sharp sticks or broken glass.  Sandboxes should be covered overnight to prevent contamination from animals. Check to make sure that metal equipment is not too hot for the child, especially in the summertime.

Illinois Law requires playgrounds to be certified safe before they can be open to the public.  The playground equipment and the property itself should be inspected by a nationally certified playground safety expert. The Consumer Product Safety Commission provides individuals extensive education and training on playground safety prior to being certified. These licensed safety experts have specialized training in identifying hidden hazards.

It may seem obvious, but Illinois law also requires that a day care director or other supervisor inspect the playground for hazards before children go outside to play — a guideline which helps to ensure there are no damages or hazards present. Thus, it is important for the day care director, teacher or supervisor to be knowledgeable of the type of safety hazards that can exist in a play area.

Meeting playground safety and compliance requirements is of high importance, as a child’s life could be at stake if the requirements have not been met.

In my practice, at Dwyer & Coogan, but also as a Mum of two active and boisterous little girls, I understand that seeing your child in pain caused by an accident on defective playground equipment is devastating.   If your child has been injured on defective playground equipment and/or gym equipment or while under the supervision of an indoor children’s gym, call our office and we can discuss the facts of what happened.

Have a Happy & Safe Summer!