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Hidden danger?

by Jennifer Biller

STAFF WRITER

Playground swings and jungle gyms can be deadly. Think that's an exaggeration?

Approximately 17 children die each year on America's playgrounds and more than 200,000 are seriously injured, according to the National Program for Playground Safety.

"There are a lot of dangers on a playground," said Rhonda Southern, director of Chums Day Care Center in Clarksburg. "Supervision is the main thing when you take them out to play."

Southern monitors children on the playground at the day care site and also when she takes them to local parks. It's easy for children to get hurt on the equipment, especially if it's not designed specifically for their age range, she said.

"Some of the playgrounds have nice equipment, but it's not appropriate for the little kids because there's big sections they can fall through" she said.

Parent Stephanie Toquinto knows how easily an accident can happen.

A few years ago, her son Derick Stevens, now 6, lost his balance and fell about four feet from the top of a play structure at the Veterans Memorial Park. He wasn't seriously injured, but did get a bump on his head and bruises.

Toquinto took her son and daughter, Samantha Toquinto, 4, to the Veterans Memorial Park last week for a day of play.

"When I come here I climb up with them and go down the slides with them," she said. "I usually go to other playgrounds in the city that are lower to the ground and more for her age."

The National Program for Playground Safety recommends equipment be divided between age groups, with one structure designated for 2- to 5-year-olds and another structure for 5- to 12-year-olds, said Heather Bauer, program assistant.

Realistically, that is difficult to do on a small town budget, said John Cooper, superintendent for Clarksburg City Parks.

"We try to find play structures that are suitable for varied age ranges because we don't have the budget to put in separate structures," Cooper said. "The main thing we stress is parental supervision."

That's something lacking at the state's playgrounds, according to West Virginia's playground safety report card released by the NPPS last year.

West Virginia earned an overall playground safety grade of C on its report card. The NPPS evaluated playgrounds at parks, elementary schools and childcare centers throughout the state for design, surfacing, equipment maintenance and supervision, Bauer said.

The most dangerous equipment on the playgrounds are the climbable structures, such as parallel bars, Bauer said. Approximately 53 percent of injuries are attributed to climbable equipment, 19 percent to swings and 17 percent to slides, she said.

"Other ways children can get injured is if their clothing has draw strings that can get caught and cause strangulation, or if they're running out in front of a moving swing," Bauer said.

Seventy percent of injuries are from falls to the surface, she said.

"There should not be hard surfaces such as asphalt, concrete, dirt and grass," Bauer said. "Instead, soft surfaces such as pea gravel, wood chips, sand or shredded rubber should be used."

The Clarksburg City Park, Nutter Fort, and the Veterans Memorial Park in Clarksburg now have wood chip surfaces, Cooper said. The park board hopes to have the remaining 15 neighborhood parks updated with wood chip surfaces by the end of the year, he said.

For more information on playground safety, contact the NPPS at 1-800-554-PLAY.

Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or jbiller@exponent-telegram.com.

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