ANNAPOLIS – Swing sets, tube slides and monkey bars are magnets for children, but Maryland’s playgrounds may not be the safest havens for children to play.
Making those play places safer is the goal of a new bill introduced by Delegate Mark Shriver, D-Montgomery, in the Maryland General Assembly Friday. The Maryland Playground Safety Act of 2001 would set standards for playground construction and operation, as well as the upgrade of older playgrounds.
The bill requires playgrounds follow guidelines in the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Handbook for Public Playground Safety.
Maryland received a B minus for playground safety in 1999 from the National Program for Playground Safety, which recommended the state replace missing parts and provide more signs to remind parents to supervise children.
More than 200,000 children are injured on U.S. playgrounds every year, the program estimates, including 3,853 injuries in Maryland.
“It became clearer and clearer that safety is a huge issue, especially in older neighborhoods,” said Shriver, who introduced the legislation after receiving numerous letters from parents and learning about other states’ playground safety laws.
Sheila Franklin, Maryland Recreation and Parks Association executive director, hopes the bill clarifies child supervision requirements. It might be easier to enforce supervision rules in an enclosed space at a school than in a public park.
“Supervision is a real issue,” she said. “But if a playground is designed properly . . . it becomes less of an issue.”
The National Program for Playground Safety also recommended Maryland provide deeper beds of materials like wood chips or shredded rubber in the fall zones of playground equipment. The material must of sufficient depth, depending on the play equipment’s height, to absorb the shock from a child’s fall.
Maryland received a failing grade for its fall-zone materials in the study.
A June 1998 report by the Public Interest Research Groups and Consumer Federation of America found that 87% of playgrounds have surfaces inadequate to prevent injury from falls.
Shriver’s bill also tries to improve playground accessibility for children with physical and mental disabilities.
In 1998, Shriver introduced a bond bill to build the first handicapped accessible playground in Maryland, Hadley’s Park in Potomac. He also lobbied for a $1 million appropriation in Gov. Parris Glendening’s 2000 capital budget to build 11 handicapped-accessible playgrounds across the state.
Making the state’s playgrounds accessible for all children will help “break down the walls of misunderstanding,” Shriver said. The bill also requires state funding for playground upgrades, but Shriver said he doesn’t expect the allocation to be large and they will be spread over eight years.
State playground safety standards are likely to be more effective than federal law, said Donna Thompson, director of the National Program for Playground Safety.
“That’s probably the only way we’ll get the minimal regulations out to protect children,” she said. “If people were willing to at least meet the CSPC (guidelines), I’d be pleased.”
Some Maryland jurisdictions already have examined their playgrounds for potential dangers. For example, the proposed legislation would not affect Prince George’s County, which adopted national playground safety standards, said Anita Pesses, spokeswoman for the county Department of Parks and Recreation. And department staff are certified in safety standards.
The city of College Park spent $300,000 in 1999 to upgrade its playgrounds, including funding replacement parts and fall-zone materials, and allocated $15,500 in its 2001 fiscal budget for repair and upkeep of the new equipment in the “tot lots.”
The Baltimore County Board of Parks and Recreation also has implemented the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s safety guidelines and certifies its playground inspectors.
The bill would not alter Baltimore County’s playground program, which includes a renovation plan begun in 1997 and expected to be complete in 2002. So far, 79 of 150 playgrounds have been refurbished.