Playgrounds are great assets in a community. In addition to providing opportunities for fun and exercise, they help children develop physically, socially, and intellectually. Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 200,000 children head to the emergency room each year because of playground-related injuries. This bulletin outlines some areas of consideration when providing public playgrounds in the community and offers two safety checklists for public entities/religious organizations to help maintain a safe environment for kids to play.
Children have different needs and abilities at various ages and stages of development. Therefore, playground equipment must be in scale with the sizes, abilities, and developmental needs of the children who will be playing there. These characteristics vary greatly from age 2 to 12. To provide a challenging but safe play environment for all ages, ensure the playground equipment is appropriate for the age of the intended user and separate play areas intended for pre-school age children (2 to 5) from play areas intended for school-age children (5 to 12).
Children often use playground equipment in unintended ways. When adults supervise children, they can help protect them by identifying dangerous situations and intervening. The CDC reports that lack of supervision is associated with almost half of playground injuries. Design play areas so parents and other caregivers can easily oversee their children, limit equipment to specific age group, and post rules about the use of playground equipment.
Emergency rooms treat about 600 children a day for playground-related injuries; and, over three quarters of these injuries are due to falls and surface impact, making improper surfacing material a top concern. 1 The type of fall-absorbent material, the depth of the material, and regular maintenance are important factors in reducing the risk of injury when a child falls from the playground equipment.
Regular inspection of playground equipment and surface areas is an important way to support a safe play environment. Entities may use the following checklists in support of their regular maintenance schedule.
It is important to remember that self-inspections are just one part of a comprehensive maintenance program. Be sure to note any problems found during the inspection process and fix them as soon as possible. Also, retain records of all maintenance inspections, issues, and repairs as well as the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions and any checklists used.
Public Playground Safety Checklist
The Public Playground Safety Checklist is a concise form based on guidelines developed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and can be used on an ongoing basis.
Thorough inspections of the playground area and equipment should be performed frequently and regularly. If repairs cannot be made immediately, equipment should be removed from service until repaired.
- Make sure surfaces around playground equipment have at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand, or pea gravel, or are mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like materials.
- Check that protective surfacing extends at least 6 feet in all directions from play equipment. For swings, be sure surfacing extends, in back and front, twice the height of the suspending bar.
- Make sure play structures more than 30 inches high are spaced at least 9 feet apart.
- Check for dangerous hardware, like open “S” hooks or protruding bolt ends.
- Make sure spaces that could trap children, such as openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs, measure less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches.
- Check for sharp points or edges in equipment.
- Look out for tripping hazards, like exposed concrete footings, tree stumps, and rocks.
- Make sure elevated surfaces, like platforms and ramps, have guardrails to prevent falls.
- Check playgrounds regularly to see that equipment and surfacing are in good condition.
- Carefully supervise children on playgrounds to make sure they are safe