Everyone knows that metal slides can get hot, but some may not realize that newer playground materials — such as plastic and rubber — also can burn a child’s skin, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Recent news reports about a woman who suffered burns after using a slide in Burlington and about a blazing hot Myrtle the Turtle sculpture on Boston’s Beacon Hill highlight the fact that playground equipment can get dangerously hot.
Surface temperatures can rise into the mid-100s, plenty high enough to burn skin, according to experts and media reports from around the country. It’s something to keep in mind as Massachusetts enters a blazing hot, muggy weekend, with temperatures possibly climbing over 100 degrees on Saturday and Sunday.
But experts say it doesn’t even have to be that hot outside for heat-related injuries to happen, according to the CPSC’s website.
“Even in mild weather, as long as the equipment or surfacing is in direct sunlight for an extended period of time, there is a risk of sustaining a thermal burn injury,” an online fact sheet states. The commission cited one reported incident where a child received second-degree burns from a plastic slide on a day when it was just 74 degrees outside.
Jennifer Vanos, an assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability, said it’s hard to know how common playground burns are because not all are reported.
Shading playground equipment is one way to prevent such injuries. Trees and shade sails can help protect the surfaces from getting too hot, she said.
“It’s pretty common to find a high proportion of a playspace unshaded throughout the day,” she said.
The location and orientation of playgrounds and playground equipment also can make a big difference. For example, positioning a slide so it faces north is optimal, she said.
“Put the playground on the north side of [the] school so it’s shaded most of the day,” she said. “Little things like that can go a long way.”
Her research found a rubber surface of a playground in Phoenix that was 176 degrees, which is hot enough to “burn skin in less than three seconds,” she said.
That was especially concerning because kids have a tendency to take off their shoes when they’re playing. The rubber also radiated a lot of heat, which affects children more because they’re naturally shorter and closer to the ground, she said.
Vanos said awareness is key — and to make sure your children know that playground surfaces can get very hot.
“I think just knowing what play spaces are the shadiest can go a long way,” she said.