Questions about playground safety were answered recently during a service-learning activity in which UAB School of Education and high-school students assessed conditions of nearly 100 sites in 12 Alabama cities.
As a result of their findings, Selma City Schools and the School of Education developed two simple tools that will help parents and teachers identify potential dangers on playgrounds and in gymnasiums and help them lobby for safer conditions.
|Researchers and students recently have created two checklists that include questions about the conditions of facilities and equipment provided on playgrounds and in gymnasiums to help local communities keep those areas safe.
The tools are checklists that include questions about the conditions of facilities and equipment provided.
They are available at no cost on the UAB Center for Educational Accountability website.
“Frustrated teachers and students in Selma city schools took a leadership role and agreed to help us to develop this checklist so that action could be taken in communities throughout Alabama,” says Brian F. Geiger, Ed.D., professor of health education. “The checklists are available free so that parents, teachers and others can advocate for safer playgrounds at PTA, PTO, school board or city council meetings.”
Estimates of annual emergency room visits to treat playground injuries range between 50,000 and 200,000, according to a 2005 U.S. Consumer Product & Safety Commission report.
Approximately 45 percent are severe injuries, including fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations and amputations.
Of these injuries, 148,000 occur on public playgrounds in schools and community parks. The most common accidents are falls from swings, climbers and slides on to hard surfaces and equipment.
Geiger and his team of Associate Pro-fessor Jane Roy, Ph.D., Assistant Pro-fessor Sandra Sims, Ph.D., Educational Research Consultant Jason Fulmore and Karen Werner of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science & Education supervised the service-learning activity. UAB health and physical education students, nursing students from Wallace Community College-Selma and area high-school students gathered safety information on 52 school and community playgrounds and 45 gyms in 12 Alabama cities.
The project was initiated when high-school faculty and students took digital pictures of local playgrounds and gyms and presented safety hazards during a public meeting.
“The first reaction from some people in the room was defensiveness, while others applauded students’ advocacy,” Geiger says. “They didn’t stage anything artificial. Neglect of maintenance, broken equipment, exposed and missing hardware connectors are common occurrences across different communities. As a detective with a camera, you may document problems for correction — cracked bleachers in the gymnasium, water on the floor of dressing rooms as a slipping hazard, broken windows, uncovered electrical outlets outdoors, playground equipment not anchored, fall surfaces that are not cushioned.”
The research team identified safety hazards at nearly all of the locations they visited. The results were published in the Californian Journal of Health Promotion.
The project led the UAB faculty to develop the checklists — tools that teachers, parents and students can use together.
“That’s how we’ve been using it,” Geiger says. “High-school students have been doing the checklists with us. They very quickly learned to identify hazards in different settings, and they identified them faster than we can write them down. They’re demonstrating advocacy to ensure the safety of their peers, and I think that’s fantastic.”
Advocates for safety
Sims was a physical education teacher and coach in a public school for 20 years prior to joining UAB, and she says many teachers walk through their classroom space prior to the school day starting to check for hazards. Still, Sims was never asked to observe and complete a checklist.
In fact, it wasn’t until Sims was taking a graduate-level class in sports law that she saw how many safety issues there were and how many people were being sued.
“When I went back to my school, I developed a gymnasium tool to look for some of these things,” Sims says. “My school turned around quickly when I started going through it every day and turning in to the principal. I had my name on it and had him sign it. It was amazing how many positive things began to happen.”
With the more extensive checklists available to the public for free, Sims says the key now is for faculty, parents and students to become advocates for playground and gymnasium safety. She believes physical education teachers should use the checklists every day.
“We tend to do things when we’re held accountable, and I think that’s what this comes down to,” Sims says. “We’re in an unsafe environment, and parents should start demanding that something should happen. School administrators don’t want to have an unsafe gymnasium or playground, but they are assuming someone is checking, and that is a bad assumption.”
How do you get started?
Geiger and Sims recommend that two or three administrators, faculty and parents download the checklists and walk through their play areas to identify the safety hazards.
In most cases the problems are fairly easy to correct and require little money, whether it’s replenishing sand and mulch beneath playground equipment, installing shade structures, or covering connectors to moving equipment.
If hazards are many, they recommend meeting with school maintenance personnel and scheduling a community build or clean-up day as a cooperative activity with the PTO/PTA or local businesses. During these events, school staff and volunteers may renovate and repair facilities.
“You can often find small grants if needed or community partners to help rehabilitate the playground,” Geiger says. “We did it when my children were in elementary school, and there were plenty of willing donors who were pleased to receive recognition during a public event that was covered by the media.”
Sims says once the initial cleanup is concluded, completing the checklist daily will not be a lengthy task.
“Once everything is ready to go, it shouldn’t take more than five to 10 minutes to complete the checklists,” Sims says. “And if you do it regularly, you know you have a safe environment where kids are going to want to play and parents are going to feel comfortable knowing their children are safe.”
Visit www.ed.uab.edu/cea/playground_gym_assessment.htm to download the checklists or e-mail Geiger at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sims at email@example.com with questions or for more information.