Centre For Local Research into Public Space (CELOS)

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Citizen-Z Cavan Young's 2004 film about the zamboni crisis





Playground injuries: quick points

(See also the longer version: Playground injuries bibliography file 1 and bibliography file 2)

Safety arguments

A.Howard et al, CMAJ. 2005 May 24; 172(11): 1443–1446. "The effect of safer play equipment on playground injury rates among school children" claims that tearing down the school playgrounds and replacing them with CSA-approved equipment resulted in 49% fewer playground accidents.

On May 25, 2005, a Globe editorial criticed the study for being "smoke and mirrors," and said it proved nothing.

There was no response to this editorial and the article has continued to be widely quoted as fact ever since, for example:

Toronto Star article, July 19, 2007: "Playground upgrades lead to fewer major head injuries." Quotes Dr.Andrew Howard: "Modern equipment that upholds safety standards means fewer serious head injuries, agreed Dr. Andrew Howard, an orthopedic surgeon and medical director of the trauma program at the Hospital for Sick Children."

April 1, 2015, an article on the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit (BCIRPU) website says changes in standards did not improve head injury rates, which are anyways very rare in playgrounds:

"The most common injuries on the playground are arm fractures because children try to break their falls. Australian data show that introducing stricter playground safety standards in 1996 had no impact on head injury rates."

Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI):

- as a measure of playground-related injuries resulting in at least one night of hospital stay, the numbers reported through CHIRPP went steadily down from 1994 until 2006, but then rose steadily from 2007 until 2014 (the last year when CIHI reported on playground injuries).

Hospitalizations for playground injuries in Canada by year












































CELOS article: "Pick a Number, Assign a Cause."

"....Making up data by simple multiplication, without telling, is not considered reputable statistical practice. But this numeration was not about careful study of the evidence. It was about getting a number big enough to be a quick-click icon, to be turned into a banner under which playground safety advocates, including manufacturers offering "safer" replacements, would then march across the land, taking out swings, climbers, slides, and whole playgrounds on their way."

Jan 21, 2014, on RestoreCSA.com: "Standards for Sale":

RestoreCSA recently commented that CSA members are paying to have regulations developed to their liking which they may then leverage to their commercial advantage....more

Jay Beckwith, playground designer and inspector: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" Feb.19, 2015

"...we do know the ASTM process, and it is deeply flawed....….how can we expect a system, in which every person in the decision-making process has a profound conflict of interest, to arrive at the overall best solution for society?" read more

Discussion about the effects of promoting trade in the playground industry

Dec.25, 2014, David Ball blog

....Standards on play safety have colonised areas of decision making which should be the domain of local play providers who know what their local communities need and want.....Secondly, it will be apparent that many playgrounds have come to resemble factory environments laden as they are with their metal stairways, evenly-spaced steps, handrails and crash barriers, and rubber surfaces...more

July 1, 2016, Bernard Spiegal blog:

"Standards are one expression of a pro-free trade ideology. Whether that ideology is right or wrong, one intent of Standard-making is directed at their international harmonisation in order to facilitate trade between nations and trading blocs. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations are part of this too and, as suggested in a previous piece, if implemented could potentially further hamstring and pile on the costs for those responsible for play provision."

Ken Kutska, chair of the ASTM playground subcommittee about a world playground standard:

It was a perfect storm brought about by the need for more public playgrounds, the media’s interest in some of the more serious injuries, and rising number of litigations filed demanding compensation for recovery of injury costs and punitive damages. Several huge financial awards consequently led to a strong public demand for increased safety. Many well minded individuals and organizations believed the problem of playground injuries was “solvable.” more

The story from Canada: Ken Kutska's idea that the playground standards campaign was innocently well-intentioned is not borne out by the Canadian experience. There were many commercial and turf interests at play from the beginning:

So the Frank Cowan Insurance Co., and many other municipal insurers, got busy trying to fix up what they called “the play environment.” The Cowan newsletter deplored to the absence of binding regulations to protect municipalities against lawsuits (and insurance companies against pay-outs): “If the goals and objectives [i.e.safety from claims payouts; ed. note] are to be achieved, those who contribute to the play environment must be obligated to its recommendations.” more

Deaths due to playground injuries

From Tim Gill's blog May 15, 2015: "How many Canadian children die in playground accidents? An open question to Rolf Huber"

"At last night’s Toronto meeting, Rolf claimed that 20 children in Canada had died on playgrounds as a result of equipment-related injuries over the last 20 years. The gulf between his answer and mine (via Mariana) is huge: I must say I was very surprised to hear his figure."

  • Note: apparently Rolf Huber (CSA and ASTM playground committees member) never responded to this open question.

From Dr.Mariana Brussoni, a comment on Tim Wills' blog

I was provided stats indicating 1 playground-related fatality in the period 1982-2000. We don’t know when it was or how it occurred, other than it didn’t involve strangulation. In this same time period, there were 17 strangulation-related fatalities.

...the Statistics Canada Cansim database offers the reader a look at national statistics from 2000-2011. The only ICD code that specifies playgrounds is for falls. If one runs the query looking at ages 1-14 years, there was 1 fatality in 2007 to a 5-9-year-old girl.

Freedom of Information data about playground strangulation deaths

Health Canada is always cited as the primary source of the “17 playground deaths” figure or its variants. An FOI request gives a list: over a period of possibly 18 years, there were 10 children who were said to have died by strangulation, 9 in playgrounds. But it appears that those Health Canada numbers can’t be verified (Health Canada has no evidence to back them up) and so should not be quoted in any report. But strangulation numbers continue to be circulated widely, including by Safe Kids Canada.

Peter Kells (CSA and ASTM playground committee member) has posted an enlightening example of how such rumours are spread through media tales, here.


CSA response to unfavourable research (Susan Herrington article

In May 2007, lawyers from the Canadian Standards Association (CSA)...insisted that Sage Publications:

1. take immediate action to remove this publication from your [its]website; and

2. issue a public retraction with respect to the publication of this article, which will have the same prominence and distribution as the original article.

CSA representatives also contacted university colleagues of Susan's to discuss their concerns about the article. more

Rolf Huber on the difficulties of doing research about rubber playground surfacing:

"A problem with a raw material as specific as tire rubber is that studies are expensive and sometimes the only funder is a manufacturer or group of manufactures or their trade association with a true interest in knowing the properties of the raw materials meet the requirements of the customer. Unfortunately this has sometimes caused readers and organizations to view the report with skepticism...."

CELOS, The inspectors come to Dufferin Grove Park, May 12, 2005

These inspector-fellows are urged to imagine the worst thing, the one-in-a-million disaster that could happen in this world where gravity exists. They are not trained in math, so in their minds an event that happened once in a million times – on a playground, on the street, in the bedroom – is almost a sure thing to happen again, right here. Their mantra is: if even one child is saved from a terrible accident, all of the changes made in playgrounds will have been worth it. When we told them that the playground accidents in Toronto had gone UP since the great playground destruction that began here in 2000, they said that was not possible. more

Many people are under the impression that "research has shown" specific cases of injuries in playgrounds of the kind that get inspectors so worried. The surprising thing is, very few details are known to researchers when they try to find out how playground accidents happen. Injury counts often lump injuries merely requiring a bandaid and a cookie with injuries resulting in a broken leg or worse. This recent article from Norway ("risky play" advocate Ellen Sandseter is one of the authors) shows how scant the data can be:

Data on injuries show that each year, approximately 6,500 Norwegian children are brought in for medical care because of injuries on playgrounds (BFD, 2000), but this excludes data on details about where and when the injuries happen to children. In addition, they do not distinguish between serious or minor injuries. Therefore, it is difficult to make conclusions about the number and severity of Norwegian playground injuries. more

Tracking the data in Canada: it's a closed shop

From Dr.Mariana Brussoni:

"....regarding CHIRPP data....the front of the form – where the event information is captured – is supposed to be filled out by the patient or their guardian. This is not the case in every hospital, but certainly most of them. That means, then that the narrative field of the event description could be quite rich and detailed, depending on what the patient chose to write. If it is too long, it does get truncated to fit the narrative field length, but it does generally have useful data that can be searched to find details that are not available in other datasets."

From Jutta (CELOS) to CHIRPP:

I first found out about the narrative field of the playground injury reports that are in CHIRPP data from Prof. Mariana Brussoni at UBC....In later correspondence, Prof.Brussoni mentioned the shortage of researchers who might have the time to take on this possibly quite helpful research.

From Jennifer Crain (CHIRPP), June 12, 2017, response to my detailed request to see these accounts:

"Thank you for taking the time to provide additional information about your work. It's clear that you have a passion for this interesting topic. After further assessment of our current projects, however, I'm afraid that the injury surveillance team at this time is not able to fulfil your request for CHIRPP data regarding playground injuries, due to multiple competing priorities."

FOI online request submitted to Health Canada Jan.13, 2018

Applied to see the data requested from CHIRPP, which is "owned" by Health Canada and so (I was told by an FOI staff) should be accessible through FIPA, all identifiers removed (i.e. names, genders, city location).

Content last modified on January 13, 2018, at 05:16 PM EST