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Special Harvard Commentary: Spring Safety for Your Kids
May 16, 2013


Last reviewed by Faculty of Harvard Medical School on
May 16, 2013

By Henry H. Bernstein, D.O.
Boston Children's Hospital

Spring has arrived! With the days getting longer and warmer, kids are playing outside more and more. But spring sports and activities can bring injuries, too. Here are some tips to keep this season as safe as possible.

Baseball or Softball

Spring fever and baseball fever go hand in hand, but injuries still happen when playing "America's favorite pastime." In fact, almost a half million baseball-related injuries are treated in doctors' offices and hospital emergency departments each year, with the head involved more often than any other body part.

Follow these tips to help prevent injuries:

  • Always wear a batting helmet that meets the standards of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) — when at bat, waiting to bat, and running the bases.
  • Wear appropriate eye protection. Fielders should choose eyewear that meets the requirements of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard F803. Baseball batters and base runners should choose eyewear that meets ASTM standard F910.
  • Catchers should always use a catcher's mitt and wear a helmet, face mask, throat guard, long-model chest protector, protective supporter and shin guards.
  • Pitchers should follow guidelines about the number of innings pitched as specified by their baseball league (usually four to 10 innings a week).
  • Use break-away bases.
  • Look for low-impact softballs and baseballs.

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Bicycling is one of the most popular activities in the United States. Although it's fun for the whole family and a great way to get exercise, it also carries risks from injuries. In the United States, injuries from bicycle-related accidents result in approximately 900 deaths and 500,000 emergency-room visits each year.

Some simple strategies to help keep your child safer and at lower risk for injury are:

  • Insist that your child (and you, for that matter) wears an appropriately fitted bicycle helmet at all times. Since most bicycle accidents happen within five blocks of home, it is important to wear a helmet even for short trips around the neighborhood.
  • Make sure that your child rides a properly fitting bicycle.
  • Teach your child the rules of the road, for example, riding on the right side of the street with traffic, and stopping to look both ways before entering a street. Taking a bike-safety class can help to improve riding safety.
  • Supervise all of your child's riding activities.
  • Have bicycles checked, and adjusted if necessary, by a trained bicycle mechanic at least once a year.
  • Be a role model for safety skills.

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With spring in the air, kids are playing outdoors in the yard and at the playground more often. Although playgrounds usually are built with the safety and best interests of kids in mind, each year approximately 200,000 children visit U.S. emergency rooms for injuries sustained on playgrounds. The most common injuries are broken bones, bruises, scrapes and deeper cuts, but more serious injuries also occur. Injuries can happen when there are problems with the playground equipment or when kids use the equipment in unsafe ways.

To keep kids as safe as possible:

  • Supervise your child. Many playground injuries are related to inadequate supervision.
  • Check to see that all equipment is in good working order, anchored firmly with no loose or broken parts. Steps should be in good condition and swings should be made of soft materials such as rubber or plastic.
  • Make sure that the surface under the playground equipment is soft, with either a shock-absorbing rubber mat or 9 to 12 inches of sand, sawdust or wood chips. Falls on hard surfaces such as grass, packed dirt, rocks, asphalt or blacktop can be life-threatening.
  • Platforms should be no higher than 6 feet above the ground, with guardrails at least 3 feet high.
  • Play equipment should be located at least 6 feet away from a fence, wall or tree.
  • Follow age recommendations. Most playground equipment is designed with a specific age range and typical developmental abilities in mind. Equipment designed for school-age children (aged 5 to 12) is too big and probably dangerous for preschoolers (aged 2 to 5).

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Warmer weather outside means more windows are opened to get fresh air. Unfortunately, many children are injured and even die each year as a result of falling from these open windows.

To keep kids safe, remember:

  • Never leave children alone near open windows.
  • Screens on windows do not prevent children from falling out because they can easily give way under a child's weight.
  • Use window guards or window stops on all windows. Serious injuries can happen even with falls from ground-floor windows. Window guards prevent children from falling out of windows, and window stops keep windows from opening too far. For windows on the sixth floor and below, make sure window guards meet federal safety standards for escape in case of emergency.
  • Move chairs, cribs, beds and other furniture away from windows, so that children cannot climb up on them to reach windows.
  • See our interactive childproofing tool for more tips on indoor safety.

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Henry H. Bernstein, D.O., is a Senior Lecturer in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. In addition, he is chief of General Academic Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth and Professor of Pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. He is the former associate chief of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital Boston.

Harvard Medical School Commentary

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