Safety first at the jungle gym

Many an hour has been spent in a backyard climbing, swinging and sliding on a jungle gym playset. While jungle gyms can be a source of endless recreation for youngsters, they also can be dangerous.

Jungle gyms foster physical activity, fine motor coordination and cooperative play. Many parents find having a playset is an advantage when encouraging kids to spend more time outdoors and less time in front of the television.

Although there are many fun times to be had scrambling and climbing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year around 200,000 children under the age of 14 are admitted to hospitals due to playground-related injuries. The CDC further estimates that around half of these injuries include severe fractures, concussions, dislocations, internal injuries, and amputations.

A recent Canadian study on the safety of home jungle gym sets found playground injuries are more likely to be severe when they occur at home. Researchers reviewed the circumstances behind nearly 40,000 playground injuries to children ages 3 to 12 who were treated in Canadian emergency rooms from 1995 to 2008.

Although the rate of injury on public playgrounds was higher than at home, kids who got hurt at home had a 30 percent greater chance of remaining in the hospital for their injuries and were nearly 50 percent more likely to break a bone, especially the leg.

Landing surfaces in and around a jungle gym is a leading reason why home injuries may be more serious. Home play sets typically do not have impact-absorbing material that can help prevent major injuries. It is vital that the surface of the gym be lined with an ample amount of absorbent material. The surface should extend six feet from the edge of the equipment and be a minimum of three feet deep. Sand, mulch, pea gravel, or shredded rubber are all good types of impact-absorbing materials.

In addition to ensuring adequate surface cushioning against falls, there are other safety precautions that can help prevent injuries.

* Supervise kids when playing. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that around 40 percent of all playground injuries happen when there is a lack of supervision. Most parents would not let their children swim in a pool unwatched, but they have no qualms about letting the kids climb and slide unsupervised. Children should always be monitored when playing on playground sets.

* Tailor play spaces. Climbers, like monkey bars, are associated with the greatest number of falls and injuries. Do not include a climbing apparatus with a home jungle gym to improve safety.

* Decrease the height of equipment. It may be tempting to get the tallest structure they sell, but the higher the playset, the further the fall.

* Routinely check structure connections. Rusted or loose joints and bearings may make swings and other parts of the structure dangerous. Give the playset a once-over every few weeks to ensure it is still safe to use.

* Be mindful of kids' clothing. Avoid clothing with drawstrings on jackets or pants, which can become entangled in playground equipment and cause strangulation.

* Check recall alerts. Sometimes pieces of equipment are recalled due to safety hazards. Routinely search online to see if the playset has been recalled.