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Study emphasizes child dangers of tree houses

  • 04 May 2009
  • Written by 
  • Published in Health
According to a U.S. study by Nationwide Children’s Hospital, playing in tree houses often leads to severe injuries to children, with about 2,800 emergency room visits per year in the United States.

The March 2, 2009 article “New National Study Emphasizes Need for Tree House Safety Standards” by the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP, within The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.), states, “Although building and playing in tree houses is widely considered a rite of passage for children, it can unfortunately lead to serious injury.”

Tree houses (or treehouses, tree forts) are small buildings constructed within branches of trees, which are often used by children for play. Tree houses are built around the world, some for the playing of children  but others for the living of adults and children. In both cases, few safety laws and regulations have been enacted for their construction and use.

The researchers for this study used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), within the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The study found that the most frequently occurring accidents caused when children play in tree houses are fractures (in 37% of the cases), bruises (20%), and cuts to the upper body (20%). On average, about 2,800 children are forced to go to emergency rooms each year in the United States for injuries sustained in tree house accidents.

The researchers, lead by Lara B. McKenzie (of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital), published their results in the March issue of the Journal of Academic Emergency Medicine.

Dr. McKenzie (Ohio State University) states, “The most serious tree house-related injuries occurred when children fell from great heights and onto hard, non-impact-absorbing surfaces. The odds of a child requiring hospitalization tripled if the fall was from higher than 10 feet, and boys and older children were the most likely to sustain falls from these heights.”

She states that studies of children playing in playgrounds led to national safety standards and regulations with respect to their construction, specifically height and surface type.

Page two discusses national standards, along with specific safety features that should be used with tree houses.

These same risks (those of children playing on playgrounds) are also associated with tree houses.

However, similar national safety standards and regulations are not present for tree houses. States and communities sometimes have various regulations but none of them are standardized across the United States.

Dr. McKenzie adds, “Tree house safety deserves special attention because of the potential for serious injury or death due to falls from great heights, as well as the absence of national or regional safety standards. We recommend tree house safety standards are modeled after those developed for playgrounds by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Society for Testing and Materials.”

Four specific recommendations from the study include:

1.    Building tree houses low to the ground (no more than ten feet),

2.    Covering the tree-house site with a 72-inch zone with at least nine inches of protective surfacing, such as mulch,

3.    Using solid barrier walls at least 38 inches in height instead of guardrails, and

4.    Requiring adult supervision during tree house playtime of any child younger than six years of age.

Learn more about Tree House Safety at the website (pdf file) of the Center for Injury Research and Policy.

More information about tree house safety is found at eHow.com: How to Install Treehouse Safety Features.

A video about “Doctors Stress Tree House Safety” is found on the MeFeedia.com website.


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