Berkeley Playgrounds Among Safest in State

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Berkeley has safe playgrounds, according to a study to be released today exploring the hazards of California play yards.

About 190,000 children were seriously injured on public playgrounds last year. An average of 17 children die annually in playground accidents.

"When you see those kinds of numbers, you know something has to be done about it," said Kathy Swartz, a campaign coordinator for the California Public Interest Research Group, which sponsored the study along with the Consumer Federation of America. "Especially since it's something that could be easily prevented."

Out of all the playgrounds in California, Berkeley's grounds fared well in the study, Swartz said.

Six Berkeley playgrounds are among the 59 play yards evaluated in the statewide survey last spring. The study included Grove Park, Malcolm X School Park, Ohlone Park, San Pablo Park, Peralta Year Round School and Willard Park.

"Berkeley has taken quite an initiative on park safety, whereas if you go to places like Oakland it's hard to find safe parks," Swartz said.

The report noted that Berkeley Partners for Parks successfully advocates for park safety. In partnership with the city of Berkeley and local businesses, "adopt-a-park" groups work together to improve the city's playgrounds, community gardens and public landscaping.

"Since 1994 we've been putting more resources towards hazard reduction (in playgrounds), putting at least $100,000 forward every year," said Jay Kelekian, secretary to the Parks and Recreation Commission.

"(Playground safety) is an area that has been neglected for a number of years. While we still have work to do, the parks are much safer for tots and school-age children than they were even a few years ago," he added.

Officials at the UC Berkeley Harold E. Jones Child Study Center allow their students to use the Berkeley playgrounds, said Christine Hansel, the head teacher at the center.

"There's been a lot of upgrading of playgrounds in Berkeley and also a lot of new equipment, which have taken away many of the (safety) concerns," said Hansel.

Since 1992, CalPIRG and Consumer Federation of America, a nonprofit organization that lobbies for consumer safety, chronicled playground dangers across the country.

In the study, officials examined each park with a checklist of potential hazards. Potential hazards included the type of surface cover used, insufficient space between swings, peeling paint, entrapment hazards, slides heights and entanglement hazards.

The report found 80 percent of injuries could be prevented if playground surfacing was adequate. Surfaces of concrete, asphalt, soil or anything less than nine inches thick are hazardous, the study stated.

Fifty-eight percent of slides or climbing equipment surveyed exceeded six feet-a height higher than necessary for play value whichincreases the risk of injury, according to the study.

Forty-nine percent of playgrounds surveyed had swings that violate one or more of the study's recommended guidelines for safety. Swings are often placed too close together, which could lead to dangerous collisions, the study found.

There are currently no national standards for playgrounds. California is the first state to mandate playground safety.


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