Archive for July, 2013

KUTSKA’s KORNER – Hazard versus Risk versus Injury Outcome Part 1 of 2

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Kutska’s Korner reprint from Playground Professionals Monthly News Center
Hazard versus Risk versus Injury Outcome Part 1 of 2
By Kenneth S. Kutska, CPSI, Executive Director
International Playground Safety Institute, LLC
May 29, 2013

In my last column I said I was going to write about how to bring more challenge and risk into the play area without creating a hazardous condition. I talked about the need for challenge and risk and why it seems to be disappearing from our public playgrounds. I have decided to hold that topic for a bit since something has come up of more importance. I just returned from American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) May Committee Week in Indianapolis. Your ASTM F15.29 Subcommittee responsible for the ASTM F1487 Standard for public play equipment held several meetings along with hundreds of other ASTM Committees and Subcommittees. The first day we discussed two very interesting and timely topics related to the current discussions taking place internationally on the importance of both risk in playgrounds and the impacts safety standards have on playground environments. This topic is becoming the “Ying and Yang of Child Development.” We continue to discuss the negative impacts the lack of risk, challenge, and free play opportunities have on child development. These discussions and others related to public playground issues are taking place in social network groups. One issue under scrutiny is the impact well intended yet sometimes overzealous and overprotective adults are having on the direction and content of our policies, procedures, and standards that guide current play area design and management practices. How will their actions impact the future child development policies and practices in the USA and around the world? Some point to organizations like ASTM F15.29 and the US CPSC as part of the problem. I have argued standards organizations are not the problem. We are only the messenger. We give guidance on how to minimize safety concerns on the public playground. It is up to the owner/operator to determine how they are going to manage their facilities and control their risk exposure. The owner and their designer ultimately have the responsibility to address the developmental needs of the children. My goal is to advance the discussion and involve a much broader base of stakeholders into the debate. During the last ASTM meetings there were two topics of particular interest to this Ying and Yang conflict. First, what is needed in our future play areas to meet our children’s developmental needs and second will the play area still address everyone’s expectations for a reasonably safe public environment?

Two Timely Topics of Discussion at the May ASTM Subcommittee Meeting

The first item was an update on our efforts to get international consensus on a short list of playground related terms and definitions. These are words used in all our playground standards. The list was compiled through various ASTM subcommittee members as a result of a task from our November 2012 ASTM meeting. Our group was asked to reduce the list to everyone’s top twenty. The final list was forwarded to our ASTM International Standards Organization (ISO) Task Group representative. This Task Group is looking very broadly at the safety of children in all settings. Our interest is narrowly focused on children’s play areas. The final list was compiled with input from other ASTM Subcommittees and other countries. The final-final list was reduced to twenty terms including a proposed definition. Depending on how this list is received at the next ISO meeting the list could be expanded. The intent of this exercise is to establish accepted international terminology as we attempt to learn and speak the same language of “Public Play Areas.” This would be especially important within our individual standard scoping statements by which we should measure our success or failure. We will be following this process closely at it moves forward.

Immediately after this discussion we began to address a letter sent to our Subcommittee by U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) dated May 20, 2013. It can be found at the end my comments. The letter focuses on a previous written comment made to a ballot item from our Equipment Performance Requirement Working Group. CPSC cannot vote in our standards deliberations and therefore participates in discussions but abstains on all ballots. This time they abstained with written comment. The balloted item in question was proposed to give some general guidance on how to evaluate a new type of equipment that does not fit into any of the current types listed in ASTM F1487-11, Section 8. The CPSC’s initial concern was the lack of specific definitions for each type of equipment found in Section 8. The CPSC suggests the lack of definitions might lead to differences in interpretations in application of the standard. This could result in some products not meeting the appropriate performance requirements of a particular section of the standard. An example was discussed and the question arose as to what part of the standard someone would use to evaluate this type of new play equipment for compliance to the standard when this new play component does not seem to fit any of the specific equipment requirements listed In Section 8. What should they do? What would you do? While the balloted item in question seemed a good idea by the Working Group it appears there are different points of view on the direction to take with our standard as we move forward. The purpose of this new proposed section for our next published revision of the standard was to address the issue being raised in the CPSC ballot comment. However the Subcommittee’s approach to the issue is different than what CPSC had in mind. This resulted in a new CPSC May 20th letter that seems to be asking ASTM to consider a somewhat different direction then our recent hazard based approach. That approach being to identify and define all the different types of play equipment currently found in Section 8. What is most important in conducting a risk analysis; what something is called or what the safety concerns are during foreseeable use of the component. No matter what something is called we should look at what the foreseeable safety issues might exist since a name of a play component does not necessarily dictate how something will be used by a child. Safety concerns that should be considered are; falls to the underlying surface or to other adjacent equipment, impact from a swinging component, clearance and use zone issues, protrusions, entanglements, entrapments, crush/shear, and sharp edges. These performance issues should be of concern for any piece of public play equipment.
I have been thinking about the CPSC suggestion and I see this as an issue for whoever disagrees with the other’s perspective and interpretation for performance compliance with the ASTM F1487. Another way of describing this dilemma is as if you are trying to place one person’s square beg into the other’s round hole. In this situation the question of who is most correct hinges on who is in charge. The ASTM Standard is a voluntary industry public playground equipment performance based standard unlike CPSC Handbook which is a consumer guideline. ASTM cannot become a design standard. This is not the purpose of our ASTM Standards. Anyone following the development of the ASTM F1487 Standard over the past few years has seen a lot of major changes within some sections of the Standard, especially Section 8. The swing section has been completing rewritten from the performance definition of a swing which includes many different variations of a swinging component from single to multiple users to types such as; single axis, multiple axes, and combination swings types. The main reason for these changes was due to the rapid and creative changes within the industry. We constantly had to go back to determine if the new piece of equipment complied with our performance requirements thereby allowing some of these new motion types of equipment into the marketplace. We were always playing catch up especially with items coming out of Europe since there standard is a bit different. We finally stepped back and took a closer risk assessment look at what the safety concerns were for these new types of swings while considering the foreseeable use and misuse of the play component. Many changes and additions were made to this section for swings in Section 8. Another major addition to the standard as a result of the hazard based analysis was the addition of the “Dynamic Impact Test” for all suspended swinging components. The safety concerns for swings has always been clearance from the support posts, adequate use zones, good impact attenuating surface in the use zone, and impact from the suspended component or swing seat regardless if it was a single user or for multiple users. The result of this hazard based evaluation process brought a new approach for future content of the ASTM F1487 Standard. ASTM standard allows multiple use swings beyond the tire swing because impact was the safety concern. CPSC still does not allow multiple occupancy swings however they do allow tire swings. The old CPSC issue of multiple occupancy swings goes back a long way when bench or porch style swings and glider swings made of heavy rigid materials. If those style of swings could pass the Dynamic Impact Test of not imparting an impact of greater than 500 HIC and 100g they would be allowed by the ASTM Standard. I think we could all agree those older versions I described would not pass these performance requirements.

The CPSC Letter suggests that by better defining current and future play components found in Section 8 we would all be able to better conduct risk assessments of playground equipment. This appears to be important to the CPSC since they review all consumer complaints especially when they become aware of a series of playground injuries from a particular play component. It is suggested the CPSC investigation process could be aided with more definitive written guidance. It is also suggested any manufacturer could assess their new product and make sure their square peg fits the round hole. Unfortunately I see this approach to be limiting to the growth of the industry and the developmental needs of children. Compliant playgrounds do not make a good playground or a safe playground. It is just compliant to today’s best design practices. Safe complaint playgrounds still result in injuries from unsafe actions of children.

I see yet another issue. As playground related injuries occur the data from participating trauma centers gets imputed into the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). This data is only as good as the facts gathered by the person entering the information during the emergency admitting process. When the injured party goes to the hospital and the triage nurse starts asking questions such as; Question 1: Where did the injury occur?, Answer: On the playground?, Question 2: Where on the playground? (After showing a series of pictures, the injured party or caregiver points to what looks like the piece of equipment involved.) Answer: That thing. Question 3: What happened? Answer: I fell. This data gets entered into the system along with answers to other questions. Another limiting factor in this process is the survey instrument. This data is only as good as; the tool being used, training of person using the tool, and the accuracy of answers given by the injured party. If and when a follow-up investigation takes place the investigator must apply their knowledge and training and most often make some assessment based on some standard or guideline. This concept has served us well but it is far from perfect. When this data is entered it becomes generalized as it must fit into the only options available on the form being filled out. If there is a huge volume of injuries and all data is accurate and consistently entered it becomes easier for those analyzing this data to take into account some of the weird situations and injuries that get entered into the system. Then they can look for true trends and issues. When the number of incidents is relatively small or not accurately processed problems can arise and incorrect or incomplete assessments can result in flawed conclusions. Nobody wants to see a child hurt, especially seriously, but what about the rare occurrences of unreasonable use? What about those extreme circumstances when things do not fit the norm? What about the fact accidents and injuries happen even on compliant low risk play areas? Certain injuries are predictable and foreseeable and past experience tells us they will occur time and time again? Fact, children fall and it is a fact young children will fall more frequently than older children. Another fact is children will over time learn the consequences from their falls and make decisions on whether they want to try something new on the playground, or anywhere else for that matter. Based on what children learn from the first, second or third time they fall will be taken into account the next time a challenge presents itself. They will make a choice on whether or not to give it another try depending on their own risk assessment and the varying results experienced from each of their previous failures or falls.

Historically one piece of equipment whose normal use has resulted in the most playground related injuries, mostly fractures, is the monkey bars more accurately defined as upper body horizontal ladder. This play component has not drastically changed since the 1991 CPSC Handbook. Back as far as the 1981 CPSC Handbook the CPSC acknowledged upper body equipment and climbers were big contributors to injuries sustained on play equipment yet they remain almost unchanged. Was the monkey bar/horizontal ladder the cause of the injury or just what the children were playing on when they fell? Maybe what they fell onto is what caused the injury? Someone once told me it wasn’t the two story fall that killed the construction worker but the sudden stop at the end of the fall. I apologize for the bad joke but you get the point.

So where is the ASTM F15.29 Subcommittee responsible for voluntary consensus performance requirements for play equipment for public use headed in the future – “hazard based analysis or specific equipment type analysis?” I am trying to understand the statements in the CPSC Handbook that public play equipment should meet the developmental needs of all children and at the same time focus on reducing all injuries in public play environments. The message conflicts with reality of children at play and the wide variety of abilities and developmental differences. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008 has given the CPSC more authority to establish and enforce compliance to this law. If their goal is to reduce injuries or serious injuries? If it is serious injuries then what injuries are we talking about? Falls resulting in a skinned knee or compound fracture requiring reduction and or surgery? Or how about comparing a fall resulting in a bump on the head where the school nurse plays it safe and sends the child home for further evaluation by the family doctor as compared to a fall resulting in a concussion requiring some long period of medical evaluation? Which one is serious? Are all these serious? There are different levels of injury and each can be measurably defined. What level of injury is society willing to accept? Who will make this call? Somebody needs to and only with further public debate and discussion can we come to some agreement based on a solid risk assessment process for what is or is not acceptable. I do not wish to complicate the matter but maybe there needs to be different guidelines for what is acceptable based on the age of the intended users. Should we take into account whether the playground is located at a park, school, or childcare? Childcare facilities and schools have a higher duty to supervise the children placed under their care as compared to family using an unsupervised neighborhood park playground or a school playground after normal school hours.

Let’s go back to my earlier point that children fall in a course of their day whether it is on the playground or not. Falls can result in some level of harm to the individual but falls can provide many other positive outcomes. Playgrounds provide opportunities for free play where a child can experience freedom of choice and the consequences of their choice. Children will learn and develop decision making skills. Their bodies will become stronger and healthier over time as they gain better balance, agility and strength. They will learn new skills as they push themselves beyond the boundaries they have set for themselves. When they go beyond their abilities they will again fail and probably fall yet continue to learn lessons from their failures. Children will learn to control their emotions and will modify their behavior to cope with whatever they may be feeling at the time. They will learn to work with others and establish or modify the rules and limits they or others place on their play environment world. The point is children learn by doing whatever it is that they do when given the opportunity for free unstructured play including the foreseen and unforeseen consequences that come with free play.
Next Issue
Part 2- Where does ASTM go with the Standard Now and In the Future?

Hazard versus Risk versus Injury Outcome Part 2 of 2

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

KUTSKA’s KORNER – Hazard versus Risk versus Injury Outcome Part 1 of 2 reprinted from Kenneth S Kutska’s Column in the Playground Professional’s Monthly News Center

Part 2- Where does ASTM go with the Standard Now and In the Future?

By Kenneth S. Kutska, CPSI, Executive Director
International Playground Safety Institute, LLC
May 29, 2013

In my last column I ended with this paragraph…
Children fall in a course of their day whether it is on the playground or not. Falls can result in some level of harm to the individual but falls can provide many other positive outcomes. Playgrounds provide opportunities for free play where a child can experience freedom of choice and the consequences of their choice. Children will learn and develop decision making skills. Their bodies will become stronger and healthier over time as they gain better balance, agility and strength. They will learn new skills as they push themselves beyond the boundaries they have set for themselves. When they go beyond their abilities they will again fail and probably fall yet continue to learn lessons from their failures. Children will learn to control their emotions and will modify their behavior to cope with whatever they may be feeling at the time. They will learn to work with others and establish or modify the rules and limits they or others place on their play environment world. The point is children learn by doing whatever it is that they do when given the opportunity for free unstructured play including the foreseen and unforeseen consequences that come with free play.

So where should we go with the ASTM F1487 Standard now and in the future?

If we can accept the fact children get injured during play and this is part of their learning experience then we should be able to find a way to move forward with the task of providing guidance for those who design and manage children’s play spaces. This is going to take some changes in the way we are currently doing business.
Regardless of what ASTM does, where should the CPSC go now and in the future? Each owner/operator has to think about these unknowns and make their own decision based on a thorough risk assessment of the many variables and management decisions we must consider here in the USA. Other than the DOJ 2010 Standard there is no Federal Law for public playgrounds. Some States have passed legislation for public playgrounds. Our decisions will vary based on the laws and regulations applied to the different types of playgrounds and by the owner/operator’s self imposed policies and procedures that are considered reasonable and customary for those who will utilize these facilities.

I would prefer we collectively move towards a more hazard based standards process than to try and define each and every type of play component imaginable. We cannot keep pace with innovations within the industry if we keep trying to close the barn door after the horse has already left. When we look at play we cannot begin to imagine what the child is thinking as they enter the playground. If you tell your child not to do something the first time you are not there to remind them of that rule or the potential consequence they will go right back to that place and try it on for size so to speak. Isn’t that part of the learning experience? We all have to learn to think for ourselves. If we look at things from the risk assessment process and identify the level of hazard and consequence that is unacceptable to the societal norm we might just be successful in adding more fun, challenge and risk taking in a controlled safer environment that is being managed, inspected, and maintained to some acceptable industry standards. That is assuming we have already considered the consequences of reasonable foreseeable use versus the societal benefits of risk and challenge in a child’s developmental.

So let’s go back to the falls issue. Children fall. They fall running on the sidewalk or on the hard surface play area within the schoolyard knowing for the most part bad things can happen. When they fall on that surface from elevated play equipment we expect there to be appropriate impact attenuating surface in place and properly maintained. If the school age child sees a concrete surface under and around the play equipment they understand that if they fall they can get hurt. The problem is they might not yet appreciate the extent of the consequences. They will not appreciate the consequences of falling on a soft looking surface under and around the play equipment that is not compliant to the ASTM F1292. Neither condition is acceptable. Accordingly, the CPSC states injuries will still occur even with compliant age appropriate playground equipment and proper surfacing. That being said, how can we define a play component or play type beyond the basics we already have without becoming a design standard? Regardless of what we design and how we intend for the users to interact with a piece of equipment children always seem to do something we would describe as beyond reasonable use or misuse? The main point here is that when the fall occurs the first thing we need to do is ask ourselves if the surfacing were the fall occurred was appropriate and compliant to the current standard. If it isn’t we need to go no further. The compliant equipment did not push the child or make them jump. The child took a risk and challenge whether or not they were developmentally ready for the task at hand. It was their choice and no child should be forced to undertake a task they are not voluntarily ready to take on their own. Are you listening parents and grandparents? Instead of trying to put square pegs into round holes maybe we need to sit back and first consider the known safety concerns. Then we should look at predictable outcomes and establish some parameters or levels of injury acceptance. We should always do our best to meet all local requirements and national industry best practices. We do not have a crystal ball. If we go much beyond a basic risk management approach that mitigates safety concerns and known hazards we are destined to fail to meet our children’s developmental needs and worse yet we may potentially fail society as a whole.
So what is a hazard on a playground?

Playing in a busy street has a higher probability of harm than playing in a schoolyard playground.) So what is a playground hazard? I would propose something along these words many of which will be proposed to the ISO Task Group on international playground terminology.

KUTSKA’s CURRENT DEFINITION OF HAZARD – An UNFORESEEN SAFETY CONCERN that when identified and analyzed with a RISK ASSESSMENT PROCESS (based on a RISK ANALYSIS and RISK EVALUATION) is seen by a consensus of all stakeholders to exceed the level of TOLERABLE RISK during REASONABLE FORESEEABLE MISUSE by the INTENDED USER likely to result in a high probability of HARM defined as a LEVEL OF INJURY which is unacceptable to societal norms.

What is risk? Walking across the busy street without a crosswalk, stop sign or traffic light is a risk that we take each and every day. Is it acceptable for a five year old child to take this risk on their own? In most societies it would not be acceptable.

Is swinging on a bench style swing seat an acceptable level of risk for that same five year old child? I think there is more risk and skill involved with this style seat as compared to a belt style seat. A belt style seat wraps around or grabs the hips and thighs of the user thereby providing more control and support. Is this an acceptable level of risk for a five year old child to deal with on their own? In some societies and playground locations it might be but in other locations the owners risk assessment might select the belt type swing seat based upon their past experience with both swing seat types and the age of the users that frequent that playground. It is there risk assessment and it does not deprive the child from a swinging experience but it does deprive them from the additional challenge.

KUTSKA’s CURRENT DEFINITION OF RISK – A foreseen occurrence that combines the probability of occurrence of harm and the severity of that harm as perceived by the INTENDED USER.


Hazard – Potential source of harm.
Hazardous Event – Event in which a situation may result in harm.
Hazardous situation – Circumstances in which people, property or the environment are exposed to one or more hazards
Harm – Injury or damage to the health of people, or damage to property or the environment.
Risk – Combination of the probability of occurrence of harm and the severity of that harm. Note: The probability of occurrence includes the exposure to a hazardous situation, the occurrence of a hazardous event, and the possibility to limit the harm.
Risk assessment – Overall process comprising a risk analysis and risk evaluation.
Risk analysis – Systematic use of available information to identify hazards and to eliminate risk.
Risk evaluation – Procedure based on the risk analysis to determine whether a tolerable risk has been achieved.
Risk reduction measure (protective measure) – Any action of means to eliminate hazards or reduce risk.
Residual risk – Risk remaining after risk reduction measures (protective measures) have been taken.
Reasonably Foreseeable Misuse – Use of a product or system in a way not intended by the supplier, but which may result from readily predictable human behavior.
Note 1; readily predictable human behavior includes the behavior of all types of human being, e.g. the elderly, children and persons with disabilities
Note 2; in the context of consumer safety a trend is emerging to use the term “reasonably foreseeable use” as a synonym for both “intended use” and “reasonably foreseeable misuse”.
Tolerable risk – Risk which is acceptable in a given context based on the current values of society.
Note; the terms “acceptable risk” and “tolerable risk” are synonymous
Safety – Freedom from unacceptable risk, but not safe.
Note; Safety is achieved by reducing risk to a tolerable level.

Safe – The state of being protected from recognized hazards that are likely to cause harm.
Note; there is no such thing as being as being absolutely safe, this is, the complete absence of risk. In turn there is no product or system that is without some risk.

Other Terms and Definitions

Life-Threatening Injury – An injury to any part of the human body which are serious or resulting in permanent impairment, that would be categorized as AIS (abbreviated injury scale) of 4 (serious with survival probable) or greater.

Debilitating Injury – An injury that diminishes or weakens the human body and has a legacy of greater than 1 month and that could be categorized as AIS (abbreviate injury scale) of 3 (severe, but not life-threatening).
Note; debilitating injuries would include requiring surgery, concussions that require removal from play to medical attention.

Serious Injury – An acute physical injury requiring medical or surgical treatment or under the supervision of a qualified doctor or nurse, provided in a hospital or clinic and includes injuries such as burns, factures, lacerations, internal injury, injury to organ, concussion, internal bleeding, etc.

Why is Risk or Challenge Disappearing from our Childrens’ Play Environment?

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Kutska’s Korner reprint from Playground Professionals Monthly News Center

By Kenneth S Kutska, CPSI Executive Director
International Playground Safety Institute, LLC
May 9, 2013

The lack of risk and challenge in children’s play environment has become a hot topic as more and more risky and challenging play events are removed or not even being considered for today’s play environments.

Anybody who cares about improving children’s play spaces could benefit from a little better understanding of the importance and affect RISK and CHALLENGE can make in their personal development. Children face real risk and danger every day of their lives. Crossing a busy street or riding a bicycle to school can put them in harm’s way. It is interesting that for the most part we all accept these risks. We have to if our children are to develop and learn to cope with making their own decisions each and every day as they face new challenges and the safety issues each challenge represents. We continue to learn from our personal and practical day to day experiences. We learn valuable lessons when we make good and bad decisions but hopefully we are being closely watched by an adult who regulates and limits the scope of our child’s play environment. This is how I remember my childhood.

Our children’s play environment should be a creative and stimulating learning laboratory however in many instances they have become over sanitized. This results in the elimination of most moving equipment, upper body equipment, and much of the more challenging play opportunities available in the marketplace. I think the reason for this situation appears to be government administrators and policymakers choosing to take the easiest path towards the reduction or avoidance of potential injuries and the associated expenses that are believed to come with these unfortunate accidents. I urge everyone involved in the operation and management of our children’s play environments to think about some of the consequences from implementing such a conservative course of action. I believe it is the collective failure of our play providers to meet the minimum industry standards for these areas. Couple that with the lack of adequate inspection, maintenance, and repairs and you have a formula for many of the injuries and costs associated with defending the parties named in the resulting lawsuits. The perceived financial losses from a potential lawsuit resulting from a broken arm or leg seem to drive other well intended play providers to follow the path of avoiding any potential problem in the first place. This course of action leads in many cases to the implementation of a more conservative risk evasive management policy and the implementation of this policy results in the “dumbing down” of our children’s play environment. Eliminating more risky or challenging play opportunities does not make the area safe. While a child’s safety is always a primary driving force in the decision making process it is not going to guarantee a safe environment. Children will continue to use their environment in unintended ways. Often boredom leads to misuse and other unacceptable behaviors. Our goal should be to eliminate known hazards while creating a fun challenging free play environment that meets the developmental needs of the intended user groups. Part of the design process should be a risk assessment by the owner and designer. This process requires the designer and owners’ understanding of who will be using the area and how the area will be used while considering the intended design use of the area and the reasonable foreseeable misuse of the play environment.

Currently there are no federal laws regulating playground safety other than the U.S. Department of Justice 2010 Standard for Accessible Design. This law references American Society for Testing and Materials International standards for public playground surface system performance requirements for the accessible route and when this route falls within the equipment use zones. These standards are ASTM F1292, F1487, and F1951. F1292 is related to impact attenuation, F1487 gives the minimum surface area requirements around the equipment where falls are likely to occur, and F1951 gives some guidance to assess accessibility issues related to propulsion and maneuverability for a wheelchair user to go across the accessible route. Owners need to use care in assessing the results of this test method as it relates to the playground impact attenuating surface system and the needs of the wheelchair user.

In addition to the impacts of these standards have on playground design form and function there are voluntary standards and guidelines that are the best industry practices to follow when it comes to not just the form and function of the play environment but the safety the of the intended users. These must be applied to the design and manufacture of public play equipment, its age appropriateness, equipment layout, signage requirements, installation, maintenance, inspection and documentation. The two primary publications are the current 2010 Public Playground Safety Handbook by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission and the ASTM F1487-11 Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use.

The challenge facing the owner of a public playground or the designer of the facility is to reduce the number and severity of playground hazards while providing essential risk taking activities. It appears the marketplace is struggling with their duty to meet the above stated challenge because of their own interpretation of what type of risks are acceptable and necessary versus what constitutes a hazard.

Each year there are an estimated 220,000 playground related injuries in the United States alone. These injuries range from minor injuries with no long term residual effects to very seriously debilitating injuries and unfortunately even death. Over seventy-five percent (75%) of these accidents occur on public playgrounds with nearly eighty percent (80%) of these injuries involving a fall. Falls, whether to the underlying surface or onto another piece of equipment, continue to be the most common cause of injuries on public playgrounds. Other injuries include; impacts with stationary and moving equipment (11%) and entanglement, entrapment, crush/shear and laceration type injuries (10%). The most common cause of fatalities on playgrounds is entanglement of loose clothing, strings or ropes, and wearing bicycle helmets on the playground. There are many factors that contribute to these injuries. The two most significant factors are related to unintended use/poor or no supervision (40%) and lack of or improper maintenance (40+%). Careful planning and regular routine maintenance by a trained inspector can greatly reduce the possibility and probability that serious injuries will occur. A proactive approach to play area management is essential to your success. Unnecessary risk taking is not one of the leading factors resulting in most of these injuries. Some risk taking is commonly involved in everything we do and this is especially true in the day to day life of a child. With risk and challenge comes some failure resulting most often in some form of minor injury and this should not be looked at as a bad or unacceptable outcome.

Risk in the playground is essential for children’s growth, creating challenges which allow children opportunities to succeed and/or fail based on individual reasoning and choices. Parents and caregivers cannot possibly protect a child from each and every bad decision they may make in a given day and we all need to learn to accept the fact that people are injured whether at work or play. Our job is to try and eliminate all know hazards that might exist within their play environment. These hazards are items or situations that can exist in this man-made environment that a child, generally speaking, is not expected to comprehend. As an example, a child may evaluate the risk involved with playing on an overhead horizontal ladder connecting two raised platforms and may, or may not choose to take this route. This child is not expected to assess the spacing of the rungs for head entrapment related to the rung spacing or vertically protruding fasteners that could entangle their clothing.

Chad Kennedy, Landscape Architect, ASLA wrote in his newsletter, Inclusive Play Community Series: Risky Play, July 2012, that risky play is a universal need of children and we can observe risky play in all demographics of children regardless of where in the world they may be playing. All children have this innate developmental need not met any other way. The essence of risky play is a child’s attempt to manage perceived danger in an environment with the reward of excitement, achievement and exhilaration.

Maybe this risk, never before tried, leads to learning a valuable lesson in life that could open a door that until that moment had been locked thereby holding that child back from attaining their own pinnacle of success.

Next column I will look at some of the benefits of risky play being promoted today by the work of Chad Kennedy and others like him.