Plenty has been written on the fact that temperatures on synthetic turf fields can shoot up markedly in the summer. As a result, venue managers use a robust irrigation schedule to keep them cool so that athletes don’t overheat.
But look around any multi-field sports complex meant for youth athletes and it’s likely you’ve missed a separate area entirely that gets dangerously hot: the playground. And sports planners may just want to caution parents, many of whom will encourage kids to blow off some steam on the swings and slides while their older brothers and sisters are on the tournament field.
Using a thermal imaging camera, a fire chief in Ohio found that a black rubber swing on a local playground had a surface temperature of 131 Fahrenheit and a nearby slide (made of plastic) was 125 degrees, according to WDTN TV News.
While in the past, it was thought that only metal playground apparatus heated up, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says there’s still a danger. In fact, over the years, many municipalities, schools and organizations have replaced metal playground equipment with plastic, or at least with metal that is coated to reduce heat but burns still occur. In fact, in their research of more than 30 burns received at playgrounds, almost as many took place on plastic, rubber or other non-metal surfaces as did on metal surfaces.
And while there’s plenty of hot weather across the U.S., even in temperate conditions, playground equipment can hold a dangerous level of heat; in fact, the CPSC reported serious burns even on a 74-degree day.
“(Children) can get second- or third-degree burns, especially on the back of their thighs or parts of their body that are not covered by clothing,” Kevin Borrup, an injury prevention specialist at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, told the local NBC-TV affiliate. “We recommend that all parents check the equipment, such as the swing seat and slide. Check it with your hand, feel if it’s hot.”
Compounding the problem is the fact that many new playgrounds use safety surfaces made of rubber; while they’re great shock absorbers, they can heat up as well. In the Ohio playground, fire officials measured the surface temperature at 129 degrees. It means even if kids don’t get a burn from equipment, they can still be at risk for heatstroke or heat exhaustion.
Some parks and municipalities have taken the extra step of installing shade canopies over playgrounds, much the same way some stadiums install them over spectator sections. In Tri-Cities, Washington, Kennewick Parks and Recreation recognized danger caused by hot playgrounds in the summer and decided to put a canopy over the playground at the Southridge Sports Complex, according to KEPR-TV.
Since closing playgrounds is out of the question, planners of sports events in the summer can check to see if there is signage cautioning that playground equipment can be hot. They can also recommend to parents that athletes aren’t the only ones who need to drink water and be watched carefully for signs of overheating. Red flags include headaches, lethargy and nausea – and they can occur quickly, since children’s bodies do not regulate heat as well as those of adults.