The Dangers Associated with Swing Sets: Head Injuries to Children

50,000 children a year go to the emergency room with injuries sustained on playground equipment: that is 137 children per day.

This statistic does not include children that only go to a doctor or treat their lesser injuries at home.

US hospital emergency rooms reported from October 2000 to September 2001 that 8,250 children under the age of 2 (two) were injured by playground equipment. Head and facial injuries in children using playground equipment make up 53% of all playground injuries seen in the emergency room. After falls from equipment, the second most common injury was impact injuries or being struck by playground equipment that was being used by another child.

pie chart of childhood injuries

image of brain centers
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of death and disability in children. Statistical analyses shows that almost half of patients with a TBI each year in the United Kingdom are children under 16 years, and approximately one third of the patients with cranial trauma per year in the United States are children aged between 0 and 14 years old. (sources: PMC free articlePubMed)

The fascinating part of being an attorney is learning new information almost daily. It is amazing how items that can seem so safe can be so dangerous. The most recent example of this hidden danger in swings at playgrounds.

One case came into my office involving a traumatic brain injury in a child that was violently struck in the head by a swing. The playground was set up in a manner that was inviting to children and adults to play, but to the well-informed, it appeared to be a highly dangerous situation for children.

In the United States we have the Consumer Product Safety Commission which collects information that is shared with the public, experts, and manufacturers: CPSC Home. The Consumer Product Safety Commission publishes the Outdoor Home Playground Safety Checklist and the Handbook for Public Playground Safety to assist parents, childcare providers, and other entities in creating safe play environments for children.

One of the recommendations for playground equipment at home is to make sure that where there are multiple play activities, such as a slide and swing set, that the slide does not exit in front of the swing. Each piece of equipment should have at least 6 feet of play area around it, and, more importantly, one should separate active and quiet activities from each other. What is below may be okay in a private home, but it is not proper at public playgrounds where multiple children may be at play at a single time. For example, a child attracted to the slide may run to it while passing the swings, not recognizing the danger associated with another child using the swing.

backyard child playground equipment

It is recommended that swing sets be set in their own container or separate area. This helps prevent children from being struck by a swing and/or its occupant as they run to another activity. A child’s focus is often on their destination, not the danger associated with the swing as it passes through the air bearing the weight of its occupant. Being struck in the head by a swing could seriously injure a child, or even be fatal.

children on swing set

The next time you go by playground, look at the way the equipment has been set up. See if the school district or park has done some basic homework on how the  equipment should be arranged. It should be set up in a way that protects our children from serious head injury while enjoying an activity that all children should be entitled to enjoy in safety. Help reduce the risk of serious head injuries to our children in our community by following the easy safety rules on the location of playground equipment.