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Playground safety enforced

June 15, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Hagerstown officials say they are already addressing safety problems that are plaguing playgrounds nationwide.

Studies released Thursday by the Consumer Federation of America, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Maryland Public Interest Research Group found that most playgrounds have safety problems, such as equipment that is too tall, poorly designed or in a poor state of repair.

Maryland playgrounds are safer than ever before but still rank worse than the national average.

"The biggest problem in Maryland was inadequate surfacing,'' said Katie Nohe, spokeswoman for the Maryland Public Interest Research Group. ''It's definitely a concern."

Hard surfaces mean harder landings and more injuries when kids fall off equipment.

The survey didn't include playgrounds in Washington County.

Doug Stull, city public works manager, said the surfaces of all city-owned playgrounds have been converted to a spongy wood material in the past five to 10 years. Previously, the ground under equipment was asphalt or concrete.

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Stull said city workers check all city-owned playgrounds at least monthly to make sure equipment is in good shape.

"We want to make sure that kids have a safe and reliable time at the park," he said.

Nohe said 51 of 56 (91 percent) Maryland playgrounds surveyed lacked adequate loose fill, such as mulch, compared to the national number of 87 percent. Statistics also showed that equipment is too high in 79 percent of Maryland playgrounds and that clothing entanglement hazards exist at 55 percent of state playgrounds, compared to 40 percent nationally.

Stull said the city has also replaced a lot of older playground equipment with newer, safer models, such as a merry-go-round with a brake that prevents it from spinning too fast.

Still, Stull said parents shouldn't assume that playgrounds are safe. Children need to be supervised properly by their parents, because even the safest equipment won't prevent all injuries.

Before using equipment, parents should check for frayed or worn belts, ropes and chains, sharp edges and loose parts, Stull said.

Equipment should also be used as it was intended. A couple of years ago, a child's hip was broken when the swing carrying an adult and a child at the same time snapped and the adult fell on the child, Stull said.

Beth Kirkpatrick, a spokeswoman for Safe Kids of Washington County, a local chapter of the National Safe Kids Campaign, said parents should also make sure children are wearing the proper clothing and are only using equipment appropriate to their age.

Some types of clothing, such as hooded sweatshirts, can pose a strangulation risk, she said.

Kirkpatrick warned against complacency.

"Kids go to the playground and they think it's all fun and they don't think there is any danger," she said.

The national study, released by the Consumer Federation of America and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, focused on 760 playgrounds in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

Each year, about 150,000 children get playground injuries that require a trip to the hospital and about 15 children die, the groups said. Three out of four injuries are caused by falls.

The state report showed that many Maryland playgrounds have taken strides to become safer for children. More swings are made of plastic instead of wood or metal, and there are fewer playgrounds on grass, Nohe said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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