Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

MIKE HOLMES: No playing around with children's safety

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I'M always talking about different ways to make your home better, healthier and safer.

You know the saying "think outside the box?" Well, it's important to think outside the home -- especially if we're talking about children's safety. Taking care of your kids goes beyond the walls of your house.

Playing outdoors is an important part of growing up and it helps children develop strong social skills and self confidence. Part of our job as parents, grandparents, guardians or caregivers is to make sure we provide safe environments where kids can play.

I remember when I was a kid, the playground was the epicentre of fun. You could run, jump, climb and swing until you were completely exhausted.

Bruises, bumps and scratches are all part of growing up and they happen all the time. But the problem is when the injuries are more serious, such as broken bones or head trauma. That's why safety measures need to be taken to prevent kids from being seriously hurt on playgrounds.

In Canada we have the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), which provides safety guidelines on everything from gas fireplaces to electrical safety. Since 1990, the CSA has been providing standards to help keep kids safe on public playgrounds. This includes information on materials, proper installation, equipment requirements, safety inspections and maintenance.

These guidelines get revised and updated based on new research. But they aren't law; they're voluntary. That means on a national level there's no one going around inspecting playgrounds to make sure they meet CSA standards. Instead, we have regulations -- and depending on where you live in Canada, these regulations will be different.

This past summer I was involved in a rebuild project that was definitely "out of the box" for me. We rebuilt a playground in Toronto's High Park. It was the first time many of us had ever built a playground. We might be experts in construction but we weren't experts in playground safety. So I did what I always do: I brought in the pros.

Playground safety inspectors have the right skills and training to evaluate how safe a playground is. We had an inspector come out every couple days of the build to look over everything. Usually they come at the end of the build, but we were on a tight schedule. It was easier for the inspector to be there to catch potential problems and correct them immediately instead of waiting until the end.

Luckily in Canada, playground deaths are rare. But when they happen, it's usually strangulation caused by scarves or strings on clothing getting caught as kids go down a slide, swing or jump off a platform. It's also a greater risk in colder climates where kids tend to wear more clothing with drawstrings. That's why buying playground equipment is specific to each region -- what's safe in the U.S. might not be safe in Canada.

The most serious playground injury is related to drawstring entanglement. Another big one is entrapment, which is when kids get trapped in small spaces, for instance, in between guardrails or ladder rungs. That's why openings on playgrounds should be less than 3.5 inches (8.9 cm).

The most common injury on Canadian playgrounds is falling. So we used the most impact-resilient wood fibre we could find that would be safe for children (they could even put it in their mouths, although I'm not recommending this). The wood fibre is also a fire retardant, so it won't burn. According to the CSA, the required depth for the protective surface area is a minimum of 12 inches (300 mm). But we put in 18 inches (457 mm) just to be sure.

Overhead clearance is also an issue for most playgrounds -- but not the one we built. Instead of sticking to the 5-foot-3 (160-cm) minimum, we built a 6-foot-5 (196-cm) clearance.

It was important to me to build a playground that was easy for parents to navigate through or get to their kids quickly, in case anything happened. I also wanted parents to be able to play and run through the structure with their kids without worrying about bumping their heads. That meant making the overhead clearance high enough for most adults.

The big difference between building code and playground safety regulations is you're dealing with smaller users, so you have to be more aware of the issues they face. With the right pros you can make almost any structure safe for children. And when it comes to their safety, there's no playing around.

Catch Mike Holmes in his new series, Holmes Makes It Right, Tuesdays on HGTV. For more information, visit hgtv.ca . For more information on home renovations, visit makeitright.ca .

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2012 F5

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