30 December 2022
Playground safety has come a long way since the early days of sharp metal edges and ten-foot falls onto concrete. Modern playgrounds are built to rigorous safety standards, intended to minimise injuries.
However, an estimated 40,000 hospital visits occur as a result of playground accidents each year. So, does this mean you should keep your kids’ feet firmly on solid ground?
Adventurous play is crucial for kids’ development. By climbing, swinging and spinning on playground equipment, they'll develop strength, balance and coordination. They’ll also learn how to manage risk, test their limits and build confidence. None of these things are possible without a small element of risk.
Furthermore, most accidents occur as a result of misuse of equipment. As long as children are shown how to use equipment safely, use common sense and are supervised when necessary, the dangers are minimal. Interestingly, some researchers have noted an increase in playground accidents coinciding with the rise of smartphones. No doubt you’ve seen many parents absently scrolling on theirs when they should be watching their kids.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a closer look at one of the most popular pieces of playground equipment - the roundabout.
Sitting or standing, one person or ten, all roundabouts have the same basic concept. The thrill of spinning, holding on tight as the world melts into a blur, followed by dizziness. Most involve a flat platform with handrails and sometimes seats. Some are raised a few inches off the ground, but increasingly they are sunk into the ground so that the platform is flush with the playground surface. This enables easy access for kids with limited mobility.
Like all playground equipment these days, the roundabout is perfectly safe when used correctly, but dangers arise when it’s misused. It accounts for an estimated 5% of all playground accidents.
Let’s take a look at some of the common dangers, and how to avoid them.
Anything with moving parts carries the risk of fingers or limbs being caught in the mechanisms. Thankfully, the rotating mechanisms on modern roundabouts are encased in protective materials and inaccessible to young hands, which eliminates this risk.
Whilst it’s possible for arms and legs to become stuck between a raised roundabout and the ground, this would only happen with serious and deliberate misuse of the equipment.
The thrill of the increased G-force upon the body as the roundabout spins is one of its major appeals. However, when this is taken too far, it can become dangerous.
The most extreme case of this occurred a few years ago when an internet craze known as the ‘merry-go-round of death’ did the rounds. It involved using a motorcycle or moped wheel to spin a roundabout at extreme speed whilst children tried to hold on. This resulted in several injuries when children were flung off the roundabout. In the worst case, an eleven-year-old boy suffered damage to his brain and eyes due to the severe G-force he experienced.
Thankfully, these incidents are incredibly rare. Many roundabouts are now equipped with mechanisms that limit the speed by putting extra pressure on the rotating mechanism. However, it is still possible to spin some roundabouts at a dangerous speed by hand.
If you are spinning the roundabout, slow it down straight away if the children ask to stop or appear to be losing their grip or balance.
Whilst modern roundabouts are easy to mount and dismount, doing so while it’s moving can be dangerous and lead to injury. The handrails and seats on roundabouts are, by necessity, hard, heavy and strong.
That means that collisions with these parts when the roundabout is spinning can lead to bumps and bruises, and even serious injury. Toddlers are especially at risk as they have no concept of the danger and lack coordination and balance.
Be watchful when you are spinning the roundabout for any children approaching or trying to stand up and get off it. Stop it before any children try to do so.
Another potential hazard is if children’s arms or legs reach outside of the roundabout. This can lead to collisions with people standing near the roundabout and cause injury to both people.
Modern playground roundabouts are safe for children. The risks we have identified only occur as a result of misuse or lack of supervision.
Older children who are given opportunities to play regularly will very quickly become aware of these risks and learn how to avoid them. Children who are too young to understand the risks should be supervised at all times until they are independent enough.
By applying common sense and awareness of surroundings, kids can enjoy the thrill of spinning around at speed in total safety.