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How input from the school nurse could make playgrounds safer

Input from school nurses can increase playground safety and reduce the risk of injury. Share this article

Aside from putting each student in a foam bubble before they head out onto the playground, there's no way to reduce the risk of injury down to zero. That said, a study conducted by the University of Northern Iowa found that the majority of school nurses believe the attention given to creating safe playgrounds is insufficient. The nurses surveyed went on to say that they are not usually consulted in matters of safety, and that more communication between nurses and school administration is required.

75 percent of injuries that happen on playground equipment occur at daycare centers or schools, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of these, children between the ages of 5 and 9 are sent to the emergency room most often. With nearly 2.8 million fall-related injuries occurring annually in the U.S., increased input from school nurses would have a significant impact on these preventable injuries.

Guidelines for nurses' offices are typically dictated by state laws and therefore school nurses are highly familiar with safety procedures and accident prevention best practices. The Connecticut Department of Public Health defined one of a school nurse's key roles as being the advocate of safe school environments. Not only should nurses educate students on ways to stay safe and healthy, but they should communicate frequently about these issues with parents and staff. Those lines of communication can form the base of new, informed safety procedures.

Climbing equipment is the primary source of playground accidents. Climbing equipment is the primary source of playground accidents.

Playground Safety Regulations
The U.S. Product Safety Commission's handbook on playground safety is a comprehensive guide to maintaining a public playground. The handbook makes important distinctions between types of equipment that can be used by certain age groups. One easy way to prevent fall injuries is to make sure that equipment is age appropriate. School staff might not be familiar with these distinctions, but should be able to rely on the school nurse's medical knowledge for support. If the school nurse isn't consulted on safety issues, the information they have becomes a wasted resource. In fact, the University of Pittsburgh found that nursing courses not only prepare school nurses to treat minor injuries and illnesses, but train them with research skills to quickly locate any additional information they require.

State and federal regulations pay special attention to climbing equipment because that is the primary source of most playground injuries, reported the CDC. Therefore playgrounds should be properly padded with shredded rubber, wood chips, pea gravel or sand. While the school's maintenance staff is responsible for keeping the padding evenly distributed and in a functional condition, the school nurse can provide valuable insight into proper methods of sanitation. The Connecticut Department of Public Health, for example, encourages school nurses to promote environmental health, which includes the sanitation of playground equipment. The University of California recommended that an injury prevention program monitor the control of outdoor pests, in addition to the typical maintenance procedures. Devices used to control pest infestations should be nontoxic and not located anywhere a child might encounter them.

"Nurses and other school staff must plan for emergency situations."

School nurses should protect themselves as well
When considering the safety of children, it's also important to keep in mind that adult supervisors should be protected from injury as well. Teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses and other staff can be injured by accidental falls. School nurses must keep themselves injury-free if they are to be any help to students. Risk factors can be reduced with proper education and equipment. Nurses and other school staff must communicate about and plan for emergency situations. The equipment they use in day-to-day activities should keep them out of harm's way. A cleanup station can keep them safe from biological hazards, a slip-resistant shoe can keep them from falling and the proper electronics can help nurses communicate with other staff and parents.

Schools should use nurses as a valuable resource. Input from these medical professionals can increase playground safety and reduce the risk of injury.

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