Thousands of kids hurt yearly on amusement rides

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(CNN) — From carousels to roller coasters, part of summer fun for many kids is a trip to the local carnival or a nearby amusement park. But experts are warning parents their children need to be supervised on rides because of the risk of injuries.

Researchers from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, looked at Consumer Product Safety Commission information on youngsters who were taken to emergency rooms for amusement ride injuries during a 20-year period. Their study, published in the May issue of the journal Clinical Pediatrics, looked at fixed-site rides, such as those at major amusement parks, as well as mobile rides, which included rides at local carnivals, state fairs and mall rides like those found in shopping mall arcades.

The rides “included anything from coin-operated rides to Ferris wheels, carousels, bumper cars, roller coasters, and any type of ride like that,” said Tracy Mehan, lead researcher of the study.

The researchers looked at data on 92,885 children under the age of 18 who were treated for amusement park type of injures in emergency rooms from 1990 to 2010. More than 70% of the problems occurred during the summer months, when amusement parks are open and state fairs are being held. That averages out to 4,423 injuries each year and 20 injuries daily from May through September.

The injuries ranged from head and neck problems to injuries to the face, arms and legs. Soft tissue injuries – damage to ligaments, muscles and tendons – were the most common. Serious injuries comprised only a very small percentage.

It was not just the bigger rides that caused problems, researchers noted. Data showed that even mall rides could be dangerous.

“Many of the injuries of these rides are over hard floors, and children are falling on a hard floor and are ending up with head injuries,” noted Mehan.

Authors of the study say more regulations need to be in place to make these rides safer. Scott Wolfson, spokesperson for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said that’s easier said than done.

“Back in the early eighties, our authority to oversee fixed-site rides was taken away from us,” he said. “We do deal with mobile rides, like those at local carnivals, but we are a small agency and it’s tough to oversee every fair that sets up for a short period of time.”

“Although the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has jurisdiction over mobile rides, regulation of fixed-site rides is currently left to state or local governments, leading to a fragmented system,” said Dr. Gary Smith, the study’s senior author and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy of Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “A coordinated national system would help us prevent amusement ride-related injuries through better injury surveillance and more consistent enforcement of standards.”

Authors noted parents can also do their part to help keep children safe by following a few simple guidelines.

– Always follow all posted height, age, weight and health restrictions.

– Make sure to follow any special seating order and/or loading instructions.

– Always use safety equipment such as seat belts and safety bars.

– Make sure children keep hands and feet inside the ride at all times.

– Know your child. If you don’t think he/she will be able to follow the rules, keep him/her off the ride.

– Trust your instincts. If you are worried about the safety of the ride, choose a different activity.

– Avoid “mall rides” if they are over a hard, unpadded surface or if they don’t have a child restraint such as a seat belt.

Study authors say this is the first study to look at the national rate of child ER injuries involving amusement rides in the United States.

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