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The CPSC Handbook for Public Playground Safety, last revised in 1997, is due for an update.

Revised Handbook for Public Playground Safety May Soon Be Published

The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS)-- this year marks the 25th anniversary of the involvement of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in playground safety.

In 1981, CPSC published its first two playground safety handbooks. In 1997, the CPSC Handbook for Public Playground Safety was revised by John Preston, adding a playground checklist and information about maximum height for horizontal ladders and swings for preschoolers, maintenance, shredded tires as protective surfacing material, lead paint, use zones, clothing entanglement and supervision. CPSC also published its first handbook for home playgrounds in 2005.

The NPPS reports the CPSC is considering another revision more in line with ASTM standards. That revision may be published in 2006 or 2007.

According to NPPS, 15 states have adopted the CPSC handbook "in whole or in part." NPPS grades states for playground safety, and basically finds that those states adopting the CPSC standards are getting a grade of "B," while the other are in the "C" range.

You can view the 1997 CPSC Handbook for Public Playground Safety at (scroll to "Popular Issues" and then the subheading "Playgrounds").

Aside from safety handbooks, CPSC also sends out "recall alerts" on all manner of products that pose safety hazards, from espresso machines to go-cars and toys that are choking hazards. The CPSC also pays attention to playground equipment, of course. For instance, on March 15, 2006, CPSC sent a recall alert on Max Play Single Post and Kid Builders Arch swing sets, stating the connection between the swing set's horizontal top beam and the vertical end support post can break. The company involved is voluntarily recalling about 3,600 units.

Here on the shores of Lake Elkhorn, Columbia, Md., a toddler drowned when the child wandered away from an unfenced tot-lot only 160 feet from the lake.

Fencing Issues

Columbia, Md. is a town founded in the 1960s and populated by about 96,000 people living within its 10 villages.

The town is represented by the Columbia Association (CA), a "public benefit corporation." A tot-lot in one of the villages, Owen Brown, is 160 feet from Lake Elkhorn, a lake built by the CA in 1974. The lake has an average depth of 8 feet and is surrounding by a 23-acre park.

The proximity of the tot-lot to the lake is an obvious concern, however, the playground is not fenced and on Sept. 2, 2005, a 23-month-old boy wandered from the playground and drowned.

Not surprising, concerned parents asked the CA Board of Directors to fence or buffer the playground to prevent another such tragedy. In Oct. 2005, the CA Board hired a consultant--the aforementioned National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS). The NPPS is headquartered at the College of Education of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. As an aside, Maryland received a grade of "B" from the NPPS in 2004 for playground safety.

The NPPS report concluded: “There is no compelling need to place a fence around the play area.” At a Dec. meeting, parents were not happy with the report and asked the CA to approve a fence. The board approved a fence or buffer, but then asked the staff to produce a report on what could be placed at the site. As of this writing, March 29, the board is still investigating the means to enclose the playground. The Baltimore Sun reports the CA indicated some kind of barrier may be in place by the summer, but a date was not given.

Both the CA and NPPS were asked to comment, but neither replied. In a note to the CA, I suggested a lot of time and delay could have been avoided by simply handing off the responsibility to a landscape architect with park design experience.

Tall swings are among the playground equipment vanishing from the landscape.

Tall Slides, Swing Sets , Monkey Bars, Merry-Go-Rounds, Seesaws, Sandboxes --Endangered Playground Species

There's less swinging going on at school playgrounds these days. The National Program for Playground Safety reports that only 57% of school playgrounds and 50% of child care centers still had swings in 2004.

Seventy-nine percent of the public parks still have them, but they are giving way more and more to climbing structures. Only 13% of playgrounds had seesaws and only 7% playgrounds had merry-go-rounds. Monkey bars, once ubiquitous, are disappearing, also the result of safety concerns. A 1997 Lancet study found the risk of injuries in falls from monkey bars seven times greater than swings or slides. While the original designers were making a horizontal ladder for kids to swing rung-to-rung with their hands, most kids find that to demanding (too much like pull ups) and opt instead to hand upside down with their legs flopped over the rungs.

First Boundless Playground for Miami-Dade County

Children with and without disabilities can now enjoy the first Boundless Playground built in Miami-Dade County at Westwind Lakes Park. A dedication ceremony inaugurated the playground May 1, 2006.

Although all of Miami-Dade Parks' playgrounds are ADA-accessible, a Boundless Playgrounds is one in which at least 70 percent of the play structures are accessible to children with disabilities. The National Center for Boundless Playgrounds (NCBP), founded in 1997, is dedicated to helping communities create these extraordinary playgrounds. The NCBP has helped more than 80 communities establish Boundless Playgrounds in 21 states and Canada.

The Health Foundation of South Florida awarded Miami-Dade Parks a $100,000 grant to build the Boundless Playground. Additional funding came from the Safe Neighborhoods Bond Project and the Quality Neighborhoods Improvement Project.

Miami-Dade Parks followed the design guidelines of the NCBP. Ramps were incorporated to allow wheelchairs, walkers and other mobility devices to access upper levels, with maximum attention given to the safety of each child. The playground design encourages sense of touch, movement, sight and sound to enhance each child's experience.

The new Boundless Playground features two play areas, one for children ages 2-5 and one for children ages 6-12. The units appeal to children with or without disabilities and are designed to encourage their interaction.

Fundraising for Playground Safety

Residents of cities around the country are finding they need to take the initiative to bring safer playgrounds to their neighborhoods.

The Stamford Advocat reports Rowayton, Conn., residents have raised enough funds to replace the aging playground at Bayley Beach. The fundraising campaign has garnered $50,000 from the Rowayton villagers, plus the local tax district is budgeting $30,000 toward the endeavor.

Residents that donated more than $100 each get a picket of the playground fence. The 40 donors who gave $500 or more will have their names placed on a wall near the playground entrance.

Tracey Stidolph was the driving force behind the effort to update the playground. The playground will get two new large play structures and wood fibers for the safety surfacing, replacing the sand surfacing that had become to compacted and hard to meet fall attenuation safety standards.

The community is also volunteering to construct the playground with the necessary tools provided by the equipment manufacturer.

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December 8, 2019, 8:32 am PDT

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