An expert on playground safety equipment says significant improvements have been made in recent years to prevent injuries to children, but much more can be done. Donna Thompson is executive director of the National Program for Playground Safety, housed at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.
Thompson helped launch the program in 1995 and says a lot has changed in the past 18 years. “We really do believe that the (playground) manufacturers are doing a much better job of making safe equipment,” Thompson says. “They are putting up signs now to indicate the age level of children…who should be using the equipment in particular areas.”
This week is designated as National Playground Safety Week. According to Thompson, more than 200,000 children are injured on America’s playgrounds each year. She says injuries were more common a decade ago.
One reason for the improved injury rate is most playgrounds are now free of dangerous equipment like “monkey bars.” Thompson says a lot of boys were injured by falling on the monkey bars in such a way that they were “prevented from having children.” Thompson added, “I won’t explain that any further.”
While Thompson believes most playgrounds in Iowa are safer today than several years ago, she’s not sure if that’s the case around the country. Thompson says the program she directs doesn’t have the necessary funding to conduct a thorough national study. “We wish that we had an opportunity to go around and take a look at the playgrounds again. We’ve done that assessment throughout the whole United States twice and we need a few more nickels to do that again,” Thompson says. “We’d like to be able to show that the play areas are safer for children.”
The national study would cost around $300,000, according to Thompson. She’s encouraging organizations, businesses or individuals who’d be interested in financing the effort to contact her office at 1-800-554-7529.