As parents, we all want our children to explore and enjoy the great outdoors, but we also want them to be safe while doing so. Unfortunately, slips, trips, and stumbles are all too common in the outdoor play environment and can result in serious injuries. However, there are things you can do to minimize these risks without inhibiting your child's natural curiosity and exploration.
One of the reasons children are more prone to slips, trips, and stumbles is that their legs are still developing. Toddlers walk with an awkward, unsteady gait because their legs have not yet established their normal set point. This can cause their feet to rotate inward or outward, making them more prone to tripping and falling. As kids grow and practice walking and running, their legs will gradually straighten out and become less clumsy.
According to SafeKids Aotearoa, falls are the biggest cause of unintentional injury hospitalization and account for 40 percent of injury hospitalization to children under five years. In fact, on average, three children are hospitalized every day due to falls. Trips, slips and stumbling injuries are thought to equate to approx 10% of all child related injuries in New Zealand.
To prevent slips, trips, and stumbles in the outdoor play environment, there are several steps you can take.
1: Make sure that stairs and ramps have handrails that are set between 600-850mm above the standing surface. This will give children something to hold onto as they climb up and down and help prevent falls.
2: Ensure the handrails start at the first step otherwise a further trip hazard could be created.
3: Ensure stair nosings are rounded or at least beveled (min radius 3mm but recommend at least 10mm) this should help mitigate facial/forehead laceration in the event of a fall. Rational is a bump/bruise is more acceptable than a laceration.
4: Check for any damaged pathways, cracks or lips, and ensure that any damage is smoothed out so that there is no "lip" or uneven surface that could cause someone to trip or stumble. Concrete grinding is an effective way to smooth out any damaged areas.
5: Keep any slippery areas, such as timber or pathways, clean and dry. Water blasting or using a product like Wet & Forget can help to remove any moss or algae that may make surfaces slippery.
6: Pay attention to any transitions between different surfaces or changes in vertical elevations. Make sure that any change in elevation is visually obvious to children, and consider using color to demarcate these transitions or thresholds.
Preventing slips, trips, and stumbles in the outdoor play environment is crucial for keeping your child safe while still allowing them to explore and have fun. By taking these simple steps, you can minimize the risk of injury and ensure that your child can enjoy all that the outdoors has to offer.
For more information on preventing falls in young children, check out the Preventing falls to under-fives project plan from Starship Hospital's SafeKids program. https://starship.org.nz/safekids/resources-falls/