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Amusement parks can present health concerns for children

SPRINGFIELD This summer, when your kids are tugging at your shorts, eyeing the latest and greatest rollercoaster ride, take a minute to evaluate the risks.
Every year, nationwide, an estimated 8,000 children ages 14 and under are treated in emergency rooms for injuries involving thrill rides at amusement parks and traveling carnivals. And, in an average year, three or four die.
Kiddie rides designed for ages four and under account for nearly a quarter of amusement park injuries to children. This category includes inflatable attractions such as bounces and slides. "Parents need to use their own judgment. Posted age and height requirements are minimal guidelines," Mandi Summers, co-coordinator, Safe Kids of Western Mass. headquartered at Baystate Children's Hospital, said.
"Follow the rules," Summers said. "If a ride operator tells you to keep your hands and feet inside the car, to hold the handrail or to remain seated, there's a good reason."
Portable carnival rides are subject to safety regulations enforced by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Amusement park rides at a fixed location are not subject to federal safety standards. In Massachusetts, amusement parks are regulated by the State Department of Public Safety subject to state law.
"Parents and caregivers need to decide whether their children are capable of sitting properly on a ride and following the operator's instructions," Dr. Ronald Gross, chief, Trauma and Emergency Surgery Services, Baystate Medical Center, said
In addition, Safe Kids of Western Mass reminds parents:
  • Role-model proper safety behavior. A recent report by Safe Kids Worldwide shows that children are more likely to follow safety rules when they see their parents doing so.
  • Supervise your child getting on and off a ride. Make sure the child understands all announcements and posted rules. Also, don't allow children to supervise younger children on rides.
  • Always use the safety equipment provided. Safety belts, lap bars, chains, handrails and other safety features are there for a reason.
  • Never get off a moving ride. Wait until it comes to a complete stop. Also, if a ride stops due to a mechanical problem or safety concern, stay seated and wait for instructions.
  • Note the limitations of safety devices. Lap bars and chains are not physical restraints - their main function is to remind the occupant to stay seated. If a small child sits next to a large adult, a lap bar might not offer the child much protection.
  • Trust your instincts. If a ride looks like it is poorly maintained or an operator seems to be inattentive or unfit, don't let your children ride. While most operators pay close attention to safety, there are exceptions, as in any industry.
    Also, don't let children ride if they are too tired to comply with safety procedures. On some rides, it's important to stay upright and face forward. Don't pressure kids to go on a ride they're afraid of, as they're more likely to sit incorrectly or even try to get off.
    General health is also an important safety factor.
    "Some amusement rides may have signs posted recommending pregnant women or those with heart disease refrain from riding," Gross said. "Those signs are there for your protection, so obey them."
    "It's important to ride responsibly and for parents to be aware of their own physical conditions and limitations, as well as their child's when enjoying a family outing at an amusement park," he added.
    For more information about amusement park safety, call Safe Kids of Western Mass. at 794-6510. And for more information about Baystate Children's Hospital, visit baystatehealth.org and click on Baystate Children's Hospital under the Locations tab.

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