HARRISBURG, Pa., April 21, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Pointing to free play on a playground as a way for kids to gain the obesity-fighting benefits of traditional exercise, without being perceived as a chore, the country's leading playground safety certification organization urged parents to recognize the importance of providing an hour of free play outdoors in a safe play environment during National Playground Safety Week (April 25-29). Knowing that free, unobstructed play on playgrounds gives kids tremendous benefits for their social, emotional, cognitive and physical development, the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA), offered a list of key tips for families, caregivers and communities to help ensure safety on the playground.
"Playing on the playground is a simple, safer and meaningful way for kids to burn calories and interact with each other and nature, all while having the time of their lives," said Tom Norquist, past president of IPEMA and leader of the Voice of Play advocacy initiative. "Every parent wants to encourage a healthy lifestyle for their families, especially their young children. Playgrounds offer an impactful one-two punch in helping to improve physical and overall mental health at the same time – and it's free."
Don't forget what's below your feet! Grass is not an acceptable surfacing for playgrounds. One of the leading causes of injury on playgrounds is falling from playground equipment. To minimize the frequency and severity of injury from playground falls, it is crucial to have certified playground surfacing, such as engineered wood fiber, poured-in-place or rubber mulch surfacing installed under and around the equipment on any public playground. This surfacing can be certified through IPEMA to have sufficient depth or thickness to minimize impact injuries from falls.
Be an advocate for safety standards. Playground equipment and surfacing have been carefully evaluated by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). The standards set by these organizations help ensure that playground equipment and surfacing is age appropriate and designed with the measurement of children's physical dimensions, skills and abilities in mind. IPEMA runs an industry-leading certification program to test and validate playground equipment and surfacing to meet the applicable ASTM playground safety standards.
Proper installation makes the difference! Playground equipment should be installed by individuals experienced in equipment assembly and knowledgeable about the environment surrounding the playground, including soil, drainage and the use of other construction materials, tools, equipment and machinery. Many manufacturers of playground equipment can provide certified installers, or the International Playground Contractors Association can provide a list of qualified contractors.
Check, re-check and then check again. Once the equipment and surfacing are installed, have a post-installation safety audit performed by a person certified in playground safety prior to use. This audit will determine if any equipment or surfacing is non-compliant and will help prioritize any issues that should be corrected before the playing begins. Proper installation also includes posting signage about the age-appropriateness of specific equipment and warnings to make sure the equipment is not too hot to play on, warnings about not wearing bicycle helmets or clothing with drawstrings attached and to make certain adequate safety surfacing is provided under and around the equipment.
Don't underestimate maintenance and upkeep. Proper maintenance can be overlooked – but is one of the most important aspects of ensuring safety on a playground. Maintenance processes must be in place on both a routine and long-term basis. Equipment and surfacing must be checked for signs of damage following severe weather and for signs of vandalism or any other man-made or natural catastrophe. In addition, equipment and surfacing will show natural wear and tear each year and regular maintenance inspections and replacement processes should be in place to minimize hazards.