MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) Playgrounds provide children places to grow physically and mentally, while taking fun, healthy risks.
But parents, have you ever thought about the dangers associated with them?
Local 15's Christian Jennings spent some time investigating our area's playgrounds, how they're inspected and how many children have in fact been injured on playgrounds in our area.
She found there are some specific hazards parents should look out for to protect their kids.
Every year about a dozen children die in playground accidents and another 200,000 are injured, that's according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
And most injuries can be prevented with proper playground equipment installation, inspections and maintenance.
In November, Doug McKenzie found out about hidden playground dangers the hard way, when his 5-year-old daughter Natalie slipped and fell off a ladder at J.E. Turner Elementary School.
"She was climbing up the slide and apparently her foot had gotten caught between the railings," said McKenzie.
Natalie dangled for a few seconds, then fell to the ground, gashing her head.
"It was a little traumatic for her. She had to get five staples put in her head," said McKenzie.
The problem wasn't so much the fall as it was what she landed on.
"The only thing exposed was just a little piece of concrete where one of the posts to the slide was in the ground," said McKenzie.
When we looked around the school playground, we found another piece of exposed concrete.
Raising the question, could the injury have been avoided?
The U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission recommends putting down at least 9 inches of surfacing material, like rubber chips, around every playground. But in the area where Natalie fell, the padding was inadequate.
"The first priority is to make sure the use zone is adequate. Because the number one injuries are head and neck injuries resulting in falls," said David McKelroy. He's a certified playground safety inspector in Daphne. Local 15 asked him to open our eyes to the most critical hazards.
"So first of all check your use area. From the end of this slide, you should have 6 feet to the edge of the use area all the way around," he showed us.
Playground inspectors use a number of tools to check for other dangers including body and head probes.
"If the body probe passes through, the head probe has to go through also, that way the body doesn't go through and the head get caught and cause an entrapment," said McKelroy.
Something else to look out for? Pinch points that can crush a child's fingers.
"You'll see some bridges that have small gaps between the sections. You want them big enough to where there's not a finger entrapment," said McKelroy.
There are no federal laws regulating playground safety. California is the only state that has mandated playground inspections.
When we started investigating our area's playgrounds, we found that Daphne and Mobile have certified playground inspectors on staff and perform routine inspections, but most cities don't.
After pouring through some inspection reports for Mobile city playgrounds, we found records of only minor repairs needed, and those repairs were already being addressed.
Mobile doesn't keep a record of injury reports.
At Fairhope's community playground, a certified inspection report filed last August revealed dozens of head and neck entrapments.
Since that time, the city says repairs have been made to make the playground safer.
"They're our kids. They're who we keep safe. That's what we're supposed to do. It's our job as parents to keep them safe," said McKenzie.
But what's being done to protect children on school playgrounds?
"The school system does not have a routine inspection process in place for inspecting playgrounds. But it is done at the local level."
While Natalie McKenzie was a victim to a hidden playground danger, her father isn't angry.
"I understand things happen and you get hurt," he said.
And by the looks of things, Natalie is still on the move, without a care in the world.
Helpful links regarding playground safety:http://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/115867/Playfct.pdfhttp://www.cpsc.gov/en/Regulations-Laws--Standards/Voluntary-Standards/Voluntary-Standards-Topics/Public-Playground-Equipment/http://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/116125/pg1.pdf