A backyard play set, whether it's home-built or store-bought, can provide kids with hours of fun. But it can be dangerous too.
Here are some safety tips:
* There's no substitute for supervision. Watch your kids as they play. Don't let them play with wires or ropes. Watch out for loose clothing such as hoods or scarves that can get caught in the equipment.
* Set rules for behavior. Make sure your children and their friends understand playground safety rules: no jumping from high points, no wrestling on monkey bars and no jumping off a moving swing.
* Injuries commonly occur when children play on equipment they are too young to handle. Buy or build a system that adapts as kids grow, with swings and play platforms that can be raised. More difficult equipment--monkey bars and rings--can be added later.
* Once the set is up, inspect it periodically. Look for loose or broken parts, splinters and any damage caused by use and weather.
* Don't leave lawn underneath. When the grass wears off, the dirt will be as hard as concrete. Instead place a 10-inch layer of cushioning material such as mulch, sand, pea gravel or shredded bark under the play set. The cushioning material should extend 6 feet from the perimeter in all directions. Be sure to clean and replace the cushioning material as needed.
The safest play sets will have these features:
* Federal guidelines for safety of playground equipment now dictate that all accessible openings must be less than 3 1/2 inches or greater than 9 inches in order to prevent head entrapment.
* Be sure that corners and edges are rounded. Protruding bolt ends are dangerous. Cut off the bolt ends with a hacksaw (filing down any rough edges) or cover them with cap nuts.
* Many children fall from wooden play sets simply because grab-bars and handles are too large for them to grasp. Handholds should be placed at strategic points and should be easy for a child's small hands to grip.
* Chains on a child's swing can cut into small fingers. To make the chains softer to hold, cover them with slit lengths of foam pipe insulation or garden hose. Or cut garden hose 1 inch extra long and pull the swing chain through the hose.
* Most falls from slides occur at the top where children jostle each other. There should be side guards securely installed at the top of the slides to prevent such accidents.
* The slope of a slide should be no more than 30 degrees, with a flat horizontal section at the bottom to slow the child's exit speed.
* Swings should be placed 24 inches apart, with the seats at least 30 inches from the frame.
* Any platform that is more than 30 inches in the air should be protected with a solid or tightly slatted enclosure at least 38 inches high.
* Avoid molded plastic and aluminum swings. They weigh from 30 to 80 pounds and can cause severe injury to a child struck by one.