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Prevent Safety Hazards on the Playground

Children need to explore, learn, and grow through outdoor play in a safe and comfortable environment. We want to prioritize safety on the playground while maintaining a fun and challenging play experience for all. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to reduce the risk of accident or injury on the playground. Continue reading and check out our safety presentation for more information on playground hazards.

The following are the top 12 safety hazards to look out for in playgrounds:

1. Improper Protective Surfacing

When playing outside, it is inevitable children will take a tumble every once in a while. We can reduce the risk that a fall will cause any significant harm by using protective surface materials. The ground under and around playground equipment should be able to cushion children’s falls.

Surfaces that offer protection from falls include:

  • Engineered Wood Fiber
  • Wood Chips
  • Sand / Pea Gravel
  • Synthetic / Rubber Tiles
  • Shredded Rubber
  • Mats
  • Poured-in-place rubber

Surfaces that are not acceptable include:

  • Concrete
  • Blacktop
  • Packed Earth
  • Grass

Pelican Playgrounds offers installation of various safety surfacing options made to fit your playground.

2. Inadequate Use Zone

A use zone, or the area under and around playground equipment where a child might fall, should be covered with protective surfacing material. A use zone should also extend a minimum of six feet in all directions from the play equipment. Use zones for certain types of equipment may require different dimensions. Check out The Dirty Dozen Checklist for details on slide and swing use zone sizes.

3. Protrusion & Entanglement Hazards

Protrusion and entanglement hazards can lead to significant accidents or injury. A protruding component or piece of hardware could potentially impale or cut a child. A protrusion that can catch strings or items of clothing around a child’s neck is particularly dangerous because of the risk of strangulation. 

Some examples of protrusion and entanglement hazards include:

  • Bolt ends that extend more than two threads beyond the face of the nut
  • Hardware configurations that form a hook or leave a gap or space between components
  • Open “S” type hooks
  • Rungs or handholds that protrude outward 

Pay special attention to the area at the top of slides. Ropes should also be anchored securely at both ends and not be capable of forming a loop.

4. Entrapment in Openings

If an enclosed opening on a playground is not large enough, there is a risk of entrapment if a child attempts to slide through. Openings must be checked for entrapment hazards. Generally, there should be no openings on playground equipment that measure between 3.5 to 9 inches. 

Some areas to pay special attention to include:

  • Openings at the top of a slide
  • Openings between platforms
  • Openings on climbers where the distance between rungs might be less than nine inches 
  • Partially bounded openings such as seen on the top of a picket fence 

5. Insufficient Equipment Spacing

We want to avoid overcrowding to create a safer play area. 

Refer to the following guidelines for spacing of different types of equipment: 

  • Equipment less than 30 inches in height may overlap use zones with six feet in between
  • Equipment higher than 30 inches must have nine feet between each structure.
  • The to-fro area of swings, the exit area of slides, standing rocking equipment, and merry-go-rounds may not overlap use zones. This provides room for children to circulate and prevents the possibility of a child falling off one structure and striking another.
  • Locate swings and merry-go-rounds near the boundary of the playground.

6. Trip Hazards

Look out for potential tripping hazards on the playground. Some common trip hazards often found in play spaces include:

  • Exposed concrete footings
  • Abrupt changes in surface elevations 
  • Tree roots
  • Tree stumps
  • Rocks 

7. Lack of Supervision

Children need the freedom to play. However, children also like to take risks. They will not always accurately judge their abilities or recognize hazards. It is estimated that over 40% of all playground injuries are directly related to lack of supervision. Parents and caregivers must supervise their children on the playground at all times. Play areas should also be designed so it is easy for a parent or caregiver to observe the children. Supervising children on the playground will significantly reduce the risk of accidents or injuries. 

8. Age-Inappropriate Activities

Between the ages of two to twelve, children’s needs and abilities vary greatly. A challenging yet safe play environment should include equipment that is appropriate for the intended age group. It is recommended that play areas for preschool-age children (2-5) are separate from areas for school-age children (5-12).

There are instances in which children from different age groups will overlap, such as a parent taking their children of different ages to play at the park. This overlap should be taken into consideration when designing a playground. You should also read any signs with information indicating the intended age group for play structures. 

Certain types of equipment are not safe for younger age groups. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission does not recommend the following equipment for preschool users:

  • Free-standing arch climbers
  • Free-standing flexible climbers
  • Chain and cable walks
  • Fulcrum seesaws
  • Log rolls 
  • Track rides
  • Vertical sliding poles

9. Lack of Maintenance

Consistent, preventative maintenance is key to keeping a playground safe. Here is what you should look out for when inspecting your playground:

  • There should be no missing, broken, or worn-out components
  • All hardware should be secure
  • The wood, metal, or plastic should not show signs of deterioration
  • All parts should be stable with no signs of loosening
  • Maintain surfacing material 
  • Check for signs of vandalism

See our previous blog post for more information on swing maintenance. Pelican Playgrounds offers a service plan on all playground equipment so that qualified experts can maintain your playground’s safety. Check out the various maintenance services Pelican Playgrounds can provide.

10. Crush, Shearing, and Sharp Edge Hazards

Inspect playground equipment for sharp edges and points that could penetrate the skin. Check moving components (i.e., suspension bridges, track rides, merry-go-rounds, seesaws, swings) for moving parts that might crush a child’s finger.

11. Platforms with No Guardrails

Guardrails and barriers help prevent falls and should be present on elevated surfaces such as platforms, ramps, and bridges. Younger children are at a higher risk for falls, and playground equipment should accommodate this.

Equipment for preschool-age children should have:    

  • Guardrails on elevated platforms higher than 20 inches.
  • Protective barriers on platforms higher than 30 inches.

Equipment for school-age children should have:

  • Guardrails on elevated platforms higher than 30 inches.
  • Protective barriers on platforms above 48 inches.

12. Equipment Not Recommended for Public Playgrounds

Certain types of playground equipment have a higher risk of accidents. The U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that the following equipment not be used on public playgrounds. 

  • Heavy swings such as animal figure swings
  • Multiple occupancy/glider type swings 
  • Free swinging ropes that may fray or form a loop
  • Swinging exercise rings and trapeze bars 

Report Hazards

If you identify any of these hazards on a playground, please notify the owner/operator or the proper authorities about the unsafe conditions. You can also feel free to pass along the Pelican Playground repairs and maintenance phone number (504.493.8124) and we’ll see how we can help that playground owner.

By looking out for playground hazards, you can ensure a fun and safe experience. A safe playground gives you peace of mind and allows children the freedom to play with minimal risks.