Swing into safety on the White House lawn

Consumer Reports News: March 25, 2009 11:42 AM

We were pleased to get a presidential tour of the new White House swing set on "60 Minutes" Sunday night. (Click on the image to see the video clip.) As President Obama said, it's "pretty spectacular." But not for the reasons readers may think. What we noticed is that underneath the swings, slide, and other sections is a soft protective surface intended to absorb shock and prevent serious injury in the event of a fall. So, like the Obama daughters, we give it a "thumbs up."

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission , each year about 200,000 children are treated on U.S. hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to playground equipment and about 15 children die as a result. An estimated 51,000 of those injuries involve home playground equipment. Since almost 60 percent of all injuries are caused by falls to the ground, protective surfacing under and around all playground equipment can reduce the risk of serious head injury.

Grass offers little cushioning in the event of a fall. To make swing sets safer, homeowners should install loose-fill material such as rubber or wood chips, wood mulch, loose sand, or pea gravel. Whatever protective surfacing is used, it should be no less than nine inches thick; but since it has a tendency to compress over time, we recommend that newly installed surfacing be about 12 inches thick for an extra margin of protection. The surfacing should extend at least six feet in all directions from the outer edge of the play set. For swings, it should extend twice the height of the suspension bar both in front of and in back of the swings.

Take a ride through almost any suburban neighborhood and you'll notice swing sets that have not been safely installed. We hope the example set by the Obama family catches the attention of other parents, thus reducing the risk of serious injury from play-set falls. We also hope that Malia and Sasha have many happy and safe times with their swing set.

For more information on safe playgrounds read our earlier post, Play it safe on the playground, or
the CPSC Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook and the CPSC Public Playground Safety Handbook.

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