A Trip to the Park: Is the Playground Equipment Safe?

From the Show: Healthy Children
Summary: After a long winter, do you know if the playground equipment at your kid's park is safe?
Air Date: 3/25/15
Duration: 10
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest Bio: Corinn Cross, MD
dr cori crossDr. Corinn Cross was born and raised in New Jersey. She attended Barnard College where she graduated cum laude and majored in philosophy. She went on to attend the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark, NJ, where she was selected for the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society. Dr. Cross did her internship and residency in pediatrics at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Dr. Cross has continued to work at CHLA as a general pediatrics attending. Dr. Cross is actively involved in her local AAP, Chapter 2, where she is an obesity champion. She is co-founder of the Fit to Play and Learn Obesity Prevention curriculum. Through a collaboration between AAP Chapter 2 and the L.A. Unified School District this curriculum is being used to educate at-risk students and their parents on the risks of obesity and to help them to lead healthier lives. Dr. Cross is an AAP Spokesperson and speaks to children throughout the L.A. school district about obesity, healthy lifestyles and the benefits of walking to school.Dr. Cross is a member of the Executive Board for the AAP's Council on Communications and Media. She is the Editor of the Council on Communications and Media's blog.
A Trip to the Park: Is the Playground Equipment Safe?
After a long cold winter, some playground equipment can become unsafe.

As the weather warms up, be sure to check over backyard and public equipment after a long winter to be sure everything is still in good working order.

Keeping your child safe on the playground can be as easy as checking equipment and ground padding at your favorite park.

Listen in as Dr. Corinn Cross discusses playground safety so you can keep your child healthy and safe.

RadioMD Presents: Healthy Children | Original Air Date: March 25, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Corinn Cross, MD

This is Healthy Children, brought to you by the American Academy of Pediatrics on Here’s Melanie Cole, MS.

MELANIE: Well, Spring has sprung and that means your kids, hopefully, want to get outside. they’ve had cabin fever. They’ve been playing enough video games to make their eyes bleed. So now, it’s time for them to get outside and play but the playgrounds are muddy or maybe the equipment looks a little rusty. How do you know if the equipment at your playground is good and what should you be on the lookout for safety-wise?

My guest is Dr. Corinn Cross, spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

So Dr. Cross, playground safety. What do we do? Let’s start with the playground and then we’ll move to our own backyards. At the playground what should we be looking for?

DR CROSS: Well, you want to make sure that after the long winter, while things are thawing out that you don’t see anything that’s rotten. Obviously, that the ropes are still intact. You really just want to take a once over and walk around the structure. You might be one of the first families that are there now that it’s all defrosted and checking it out. You want to make sure that you don’t see any screws sticking out. You want to make sure that any wooden area is free of splinters. You just want to check and it’s really common sense but you just have to take the time to look. Make sure that everything seems sturdy. If you get up on something and it seems a little wobbly, don’t assume that the Department of Recreation has been there and has actually okayed the structure. they may not have gotten to it yet. So if it doesn’t seem good to you, it’s probably not safe to be on.

MELANIE: So parents should kind of go there ahead of time and look at things and as their children are playing, kind of give it a little shake, give it a little look see. And what do you do if you see things that don’t quite seem okay? Do you tell your kids, “You know what? Don’t play on that right now.” What do you do? Who do you tell?

DR CROSS: I would say you could call the Department of Recreation. If you don’t know that phone number, you can, of course, call your local police department and they can help. They may put a little sign that says, "This is not safe." If it’s one of the top rails that a kid could just fall off of and it’s not in place, then that’s a big deal. They’ll also want you to basically let them know where it is and you want to take a picture, that would all be really helpful. The other thing you want to check is the stuff on the bottom. So, all these playgrounds are on woodchips and sand, but sometimes they’re on rubber surfaces and those rubber surfaces can erode. You want to make sure there’s nothing sticking up out of those surfaces. You just really want to make sure that when your kid comes down that slide, they’re going to land on something nice and soft. So, you just want to have a heads up and pay attention.

MELANIE: Well, the muddiness and goose poop aside. (laughing) Oh, my gosh it gets, so bad at the parks around now. Now, what about our own backyards? Maybe you have playground equipment or you have a wooden fenced-in garden or any of these things. And the kids want to get out there and start throwing a ball around.

DR CROSS: Right. So, here it’s your own backyard and it’s really your own responsibility, so you have to realize that you’re the only person doing this and there’s no one else who’s going to come around and check it later. If you have that play structure, then you need to make sure it’s very sturdy. So, if that means that you really try and shake it or maybe you hang from the rings or the monkey bars, because, I mean it, should be able to usually hold an adult's weight. You want to make sure that it’s sturdy. You want to make sure that it’s holding the swing up; that they have the closed “S” hooks; that everything is still as it should be; that none of the plastic has cracked and, again, that the surface that it is on doesn’t need to be replaced or replenished, depending on what it is. So, you want to check all of that in your own backyard, that there is no erosion and that there has been no decay. That ensures that the kids will not get a splinter or anything else.

MELANIE: I still don’t even trust the “S” hooks on a swing, if I go higher than about a foot and a half I’m afraid those hooks are going to unhook from the top. So I always like those ones that are like the belay ones that close up completely.

DR CROSS: Yes those are definitely better but, unfortunately, a lot of those come with the “S” hooks and a lot of people don’t realize that you have to use something that actually closes because they need to be closed when you’re swinging.

MELANIE: Yeah I’m so scared of those, I’ve never like them. Now, what about other play equipment? Kids are starting to take their bicycles down from the garage and they want to check the tires and make sure the spokes didn’t rust during the winter. Do parents go through the bikes, too, and all those kinds of toys?

DR CROSS: Absolutely! They should go through the bikes a lot of those things, if they’re stored properly, nothing is going to happen during the winter. But you do need to remind your kids that they need to use their helmets at all times. You need to make sure you review safety instructions. With the playground, you want to make sure that your kids remember, “Hey, don’t run in front of the swing.” With the bikes and the scooters, you need to make sure they remember, “If you’re on something with wheels, you’ve got a helmet on.” You also want to make sure--and this is something with play equipment that we don’t often talk about--but that’s that kids aren’t tumbling and doing all this stuff up there, going down the slide with things around their neck. Unfortunately as a resident, I saw a horrible story where a girl put a lanyard from her father’s work, you know it was one of his work I.D.’s, went down a slide and it got stuck and she ended up strangling herself. So, you want to make sure that anything you have around your child’s neck has a breakaway strap because it’s just not safe to be doing flips over monkey bars or anything like that with something around your neck. So that’s very important that a lot of parent’s don’t realize. You also want to make sure that the equipment you’re using for you child, whether it’s a bike, a scooter, or ever playground equipment is the right size. That they’re on the right size swing, maybe, it’s a playground for a 3-year-old or it’s a playground intended for a 7 year old, these things really have age and size restrictions and you want to make sure you’re respecting that.

MELANIE: When we’re figuring out all this stuff, the winter has come and gone, your children have grown a little bit and we talk about so much on this show, Dr. Cross, about concussion in sports. But you mentioned about wearing a helmet if you’re on bikes, skateboards and scooters. And after the winter your kids have grown, maybe their helmet doesn’t fit them the same way. Do you know, or can you tell us, how a helmet it really supposed to fit, how far down it’s supposed to come?

DR CROSS: Absolutely. So, there are lots of ways you can adjust a helmet and sometimes they have little pads that have been put in there, so it might be time to take some of those padding’s out. Some are removable, some aren’t, so you have to know your helmet. There are also sometimes little things you can turn to make the actual circumference of the helmet bigger. You want to make sure the straps are basically going on either side of the ear, going underneath the neck, that there’s not a lot of play down there, and that’s its sitting level with the forehead. For anyone who hasn’t even looked at this, really if you just Google "how a helmet should fit a child" online, there’s wonderful pictures. Almost every helmet comes with those directions but people usually throw them out. Look at a picture because a picture is worth a thousand words. Make sure that that helmet is snug because if it’s moving around, it’s not going to help your child. The point is to have it nice and snug against the head so that it absorbs the impact. If there’s a lot of play in that helmet, they’re not going to like that but, I mean, that’s not going to be helpful. Often kids don’t like that because they feel like it’s tight, but once they get used to it they really don’t mind it at all. Just make sure you’re getting a helmet that’s not going to pinch their chin. It’s just so important to keep our heads safe.

MELANIE: So, kids get to play. We’ve checked out all the equipment, no rust, their bikes are all tuned up and they’re wearing their helmets, they go on the monkey bars or something like that. We can’t prevent every little injury. You’re a pediatrician. I mean, kids are going to fall, they’re going to twist an ankle, they’re going to hurt a wrist, they’re going to bump their head. As a parent, give your best advice in our last minute and a half here, for really getting parents out to the playground with their children, playing with their children, the importance of that so maybe those accident’s don’t happen quite so often because we’re actually there playing with them.

DR CROSS: Right. I mean, whenever a child tries something new, they’re more than likely going to fall off. Whether it's riding a bike scootering, trying the monkey bars, nobody’s an expert on anything when they first start. But as parents, it’s our responsibility to encourage kids to try again and when they do hurt themselves just a little, maybe that’s falling off the bike, maybe that's falling down from the monkey bars, don’t make a huge deal of it. Making sure they’re okay, of course, but just being like “Let’s shake it off and just start it again.” Because you need to raise a kid that has perseverance and who has the courage to keep trying to do things and being outside and being physically active are so good, not just for their bodies but for their brains. It’s really good and it’s so important to be physically active and get outside. Being there with your child makes it such a wonderful experience and it also makes sure that you can let them know that maybe if they’re climbing to the top of the monkey bars that maybe that’s not the best idea, but hanging from it below and you fall you’ll be just fine. So, you can sort of give them guidance if you’re there and paying attention and really interacting with your kid.

MELANIE: And the spring is certainly a great time for parents to get out there and go with your children. Put pedometers on, get to the park, run around with your kids, play with them because this is certainly the time of year for everyone to get active together. What a great way to kind of come up from the winter doldrums and get outside and play with your kids.

This is Melanie Cole, you’re listening to RadioMD and our expert guests are provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics and their consumer website

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