Playground safety has always been a priority for parents and childcare providers. In addition to checking faulty and sharp-edged equipment, hot playground structures have been a cause for concern. Young children are especially vulnerable, because they don’t understand the dangers of hot structures, and many are not mobile enough to move out of harm’s way.
Last year, Danielle Zillioux from Raleigh, North Carolina reported that her 14-month-old daughter got 2nd-degree burns on her hands from her daycare program’s playground. Zillioux said, “It doesn’t have to be super hot days, and there doesn’t have to be direct sunlight.” Zillioux urges the daycare center to install shade structures on the playground, so this doesn’t happen to other children.
ABC News Tested Temperatures on Hot Playgrounds in California
ABC News’ Kayna Whitworth says, “Modern plastics can get so hot that they can leave a 3rd- degree burn.” Whitworth decided to see how hot playgrounds can get, so she met up with Jennifer Vanos, Ph.D., Asst Professor in Human Biometeorology at the University of California San Diego. Vanos took readings on various playground equipment, sunny and shaded, around California. Vanos says, “Playgrounds are acting as mini heat islands.”
Vanos and Whitworth found:
Plastic slides can reach 160°F.
Rubber cushioning reaches over 170°F.
At just 140°F, a child can get a 2nd-degree burn in as little as 3 seconds.
A 3rd-degree burn takes only 5 seconds.
Children 2 and under are at a heightened risk because they likely don't know how to remove themselves from a scalding surface.
Parents need to be vigilant: go around and feel the playground equipment.
Make sure children are covered with long pants.
Children also need to wear shoes that won’t fall off to prevent burns on the bottom of their feet.
Whitworth and Vanos’ findings aren’t specific to sunny California. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says, “Even in mild weather, as long as the equipment or surfacing is in direct sunlight for an extended period, there is a risk of sustaining a thermal burn injury.” Reports show that pediatric burns happened when temperatures were in the low 70’s.
Andrew Roszak Tests Playground Equipment in the US Virgin Islands
Our Executive Director, Andrew Roszak, was recently teaching classes in the US Virgin Islands. He recorded temperatures on a local playground using a heat gun, which looks at ambient temperatures of playground equipment to show how hot it can get on a 90°F day in the summer.
Floor rubbering quickly reached 120°F.
A slide in the shade only reached in the low 90°F range, which was a 30° temperature difference between the sun and shaded areas.
Roszak says that child care providers should consider adding shade structures to all playground equipment. It makes a temperature difference, and it will ultimately result in fewer pediatric burns.
Ways to Keep Kids Safe on Hot Playgrounds
Michael Allen is a Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Geography and Climate Scientist at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. He says it’s important to be aware of elevated temperatures in urban environments because playgrounds can reach dangerously high temperatures. Allen says, “Some studies have shown temperatures above 150°F. Others find third-degree burn potential associated with using the play equipment.”
Materials used to construct the play place may be harmful to children.
Some plastic materials absorb a lot of solar radiation.
The bouncy rubber material that’s used as the ground cover can re-radiate the heat back onto the feet of children.
Reducing risk requires proactive approaches that begin with playground design.
Parents and Child Care Providers Need to Ask These Questions:
What materials are used?
Is there adequate shade?
Do we as parents know how hot some of that material is?
Education is key. Parents and providers should learn about surface materials, as well as how to spot dangerous, hot equipment on sunny days.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission also offers tips for burn safety awareness on hot playgrounds:
Watch for uncoated metal equipment, dark-colored plastic and rubber, and asphalt and concrete surfaces.
Check all slides, swings, or other equipment before children begin to play.
Children under 2 are most susceptible to burns because their skin is thinner and more delicate.
Some materials transfer heat more slowly than others, and these materials may not feel hot with a quick touch.
Always watch children while on the playground.
Keeping kids safe on hot playgrounds should always be a priority. Adding adequate shade, using different materials, and always checking playground surfaces before use are some of the ways for children to avoid harmful burns.
The Institute for Childhood Preparedness’ expert staff will make sure your playground, windows, and doors are safe and secure. We’re proud to offer our site safety surveys and training workshops in English and Spanish. Schedule a training with us today: https://www.childhoodpreparedness.org/training.