Children’s playgrounds can be found in almost every neighborhood across Malaysia, but parents often lament their lack of appropriate safety measures.
No official records are kept on injuries that occur on playgrounds, but data from an orthopedic health blog indicates that 17 percent of broken spines cases among children were the result of playground accidents.
Undersecretary for the Federal Territories Ministry’s Strategic Development Division Tiew Hai San has also voiced his concern over the issue.
Developers often bundle playgrounds with housing projects, only to have them left abandoned, without adequate care or maintenance, after the houses are occupied, reported Bernama.
Recognising the problem, the ministry launched a new policy in September, effective in the three territories under its jurisdiction: Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan. Known as the Children’s Playground Safety Policy, it facilitates the creation of a playground environment that is safe and presents a lower risk of accidents.
It is believed that the policy will also help transform the playgrounds into sustainable ‘green lungs’ for the country.
>Aside from improving the safety and lifespan of playground equipment, the policy also ensures that the maintenance of children’s playgrounds in the Federal Territories remains uniform and is conducted proactively every six months, in compliance with the Malaysian safety standard MS966:2001.
Among the crucial regulations enforced by the policy is the provision of a suitable drop surface, provision of adequate space, identification and elimination of hazardous elements from playgrounds, and emphasis on the importance of parental or a guardian’s supervision.
Tiew pointed out that unsuitable surfaces were the main causes of accidents on playgrounds. The worst offenders provide surfaces that are too hard to absorb the impact of a fall, and so the potential for injury is high.
“Developers must ensure that playground surfaces have a soft, loose-fill top layer, with a depth of 30 centimeters, and that it does not collect water and is free of the litter”, he explained when questioned at the National Seminar on Green Area Management in Putrajaya, recently.
He noted that suitable playground surfaces include engineered wood fibers; sawdust; sand; pea gravel; or a rubber underlay made of natural, synthetic or shredded rubber.
AMPLE USE ZONE
He also clarified the required breadth of play zones, defined as the radius of the drop surface around equipment such as slides and swings.
“Slides that are up to six feet (1.82 meters) high need a play zone that is six feet wide. Taller slides that extend up to eight feet (2.4 meters) need a play zone that is as wide as the equipment is tall”, he explained.
A wider play zone is also mandatory for swings designed for children aged between five and 12 years, as well as for the harnessed seat of swings designed for toddlers.
Tiew pointed out that the breadth of play zones in front of and behind swings should be twice as wide as the swing’s height up to its hook; the entire swing structure must have a play zone that is at least six feet wide.
Another important regulation in the development of new children’s playgrounds in the Federal Territories is the elimination of potential hazards.
The ministry has identified several dangerous elements in the form of playground equipment that could potentially cause accidents. This includes equipment with obvious protrusions, such as screws that protrude from their nuts.
Equipment parts that can get entangled with a child’s clothes or jewelry are also potential hazards. These must be eliminated, along with parts that have the ability to trap a child’s head or limbs, particularly parts on slide platforms.
“Children can trip on broken concrete flooring, tree roots that protrude from the ground, tree stumps and rocks. They can get their fingers jammed or hurt on broken playground equipment with sharp edges”, said Tiew.
The ministry wants to ensure that playground developers and owners only provide equipment that is suitable for children. It has highlighted the types of equipment that are potentially hazardous, such as swing sets that are heavy, star-shaped, a type used by surfers or have multiple seats.
Another important safety measure is encouraging parental supervision since some 40 percent of the accidents occurring on playgrounds could have been avoided if the children had been monitored.
Tiew hoped that parents would monitor their children at all times while on the playground.
“Parents need to ensure their children have dressed appropriately for the playground. Necklaces, skirts, or pants that are too long or too short can expose the children to the risk of injury”, he explained.
He also called on parents to refrain from allowing their children to bring bicycles, skateboards or roller blades to the playground because of the potential harm to other children.
Other safety strategies to be heeded by playground developers include ensuring safe distances between each piece of equipment and providing guardrails, protective barriers and appropriate signage, where applicable.
The maintenance of playgrounds should also be a regular and continual process, where old playground equipment that is past its prime is replaced.
Tiew stressed the importance of maintenance because this was an aspect often left neglected by playground developers and owners, even though continual maintenance can prevent accidents.
“We have had many public complaints on the issue. Up to 40 complaints are heard in Kuala Lumpur every month on this matter alone, and City Hall (DBKL) ha had to spend some RM4 million per year to settle it”, stated Tiew.
In response to the latest policy, the Putrajaya Corporation (PPj) has provided the PPj Risk Profile Mitigation Plan to train staff to manage the maintenance of and adoption of safety measures for playground equipment.
Tiew also said that DBKL and the Labuan Corporation had presented the plan to the legislature.