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Playing It Safe: 4 Steps to Playground Safety

Key Points

  • Playground safety is crucial to prevent injuries in children, with the National Safety Council reporting that 200,000 children visit the emergency room each year due to playground injuries, 79% of which are due to falls.
  • Parents should regularly check ground surfaces under playground equipment, ensuring they are at least six-feet wide and 12-inches deep with soft, cushioning material such as bark mulch, wood fibers, sand, wood chips, shredded tires and rubber mats.
  • The spaces between playground equipment should be at least nine feet apart to prevent overcrowding and potential accidents, and openings on play equipment should be less than three and one-half inches and no more than nine inches to prevent falls or entrapment.
  • Swing sets should be sturdy and have cushioned surfaces extending twice the height of the suspending bar in both the back and the front to prevent injuries from falls.
  • Parents should also inspect for "nature" hazards such as large sticks, uneven rocks, water leakage, and untrimmed trees, and report any playground dangers to the proper authorities.
Trips to the playground are an outdoor activity children eagerly anticipate. Parents should consider proper playground safety to avoid injuries and trips to the urgent care or emergency room. Here are four steps to ensuring your child's playground is a safe area:
Playing It Safe: 4 Steps to Playground Safety

Key Points

  • Playground safety is crucial to prevent injuries in children, with the National Safety Council reporting that 200,000 children visit the emergency room each year due to playground injuries, 79% of which are due to falls.
  • Parents should regularly check ground surfaces under playground equipment, ensuring they are at least six-feet wide and 12-inches deep with soft, cushioning material such as bark mulch, wood fibers, sand, wood chips, shredded tires and rubber mats.
  • The spaces between playground equipment should be at least nine feet apart to prevent overcrowding and potential accidents, and openings on play equipment should be less than three and one-half inches and no more than nine inches to prevent falls or entrapment.
  • Swing sets should be sturdy and have cushioned surfaces extending twice the height of the suspending bar in both the back and the front to prevent injuries from falls.
  • Parents should also inspect for "nature" hazards such as large sticks, uneven rocks, water leakage, and untrimmed trees, and report any playground dangers to the proper authorities.
Trips to the playground are an outdoor activity children eagerly anticipate. Parents should consider proper playground safety to avoid injuries and trips to the urgent care or emergency room. Here are four steps to ensuring your child's playground is a safe area:

1. Check Ground Surfaces

According to the National Safety Council, 200,000 children visit the emergency room each year due to playground injuries. Approximately 79 percent of injuries are due to falls so it's essential to check ground surfaces.

Areas under swings, monkey bars and other playground equipment should be at least six-feet wide and 12-inches deep with soft material that won't harm children if they fall. Good playgrounds use bark mulch, wood fibers, sand, wood chips, shredded tires and rubber mats to make sure surfaces are cushioned.

Avoid surfaces made up of grass, dirt or concrete. A fall on these surfaces may result in scrapes, bruises or broken bones requiring pediatric emergency care. It's also prudent for parents to ask groundskeepers about surface maintenance schedules.

2. Check Spaces Between and On Equipment

PlaygroundSafety.org says "There is no nationally coordinated effort" to ensure playgrounds are safe. One concern is the distance between playground equipment.

Many play areas are overstuffed with equipment when the spaces between them should be at least nine feet apart.

In addition, parents should look for wide openings on play equipment in guardrails and ladder rungs. These spaces should be less than three and one-half inches and no more than nine inches to prevent falls or children becoming trapped while playing.

3. Inspect Swing Sets

Swings are a favorite for most children but again, it's best to check them for sturdiness in structure as well as the ground surface.

The surface under swing sets is best if it extends twice the height of the suspending bar in both the back and the front. A fall from a swing to a hard surface might require immediate care from an urgent clinic so be sure to check the areas beneath and around swings. These surfaces should also utilize cushioned elements to sway injuries.

4. Check for "Nature" Hazards

Many playgrounds designs include natural elements like trees and foliage and some are near lakes and rivers.

Before allowing children to play, make sure these natural elements won't cause harmful injuries. Things to look for include:

  • Large sticks or twigs that cause trips or falls.
  • Fences surrounding the playground should have rails children can't crawl through. They should also be tall enough and difficult to climb — smooth, taller fences are best.
  • Rocks and boulders with uneven surfaces or sharp edges can cause cuts or scrapes.
  • Water leaking into the playground may cause mold to grow or be a breeding ground for insects.
  • Untrimmed trees that hang too close to play equipment. Children may be tempted to grab the limbs and attempt to climb trees.

Many communities and neighborhoods desire playgrounds and parks. Parents can ensure safer play if the time is taken to inspect areas in the playground before children engage in activity. Above all, if you see playground dangers, report it to the proper authorities.

Frequently asked questions

  • What are the common injuries children can get from playgrounds?

    The most common injuries children can get from playgrounds are due to falls. These can result in scrapes, bruises, or broken bones that may require pediatric emergency care.
  • What kind of surface should be under playground equipment?

    The areas under playground equipment should be at least six-feet wide and 12-inches deep with soft material that won't harm children if they fall. Good playgrounds use bark mulch, wood fibers, sand, wood chips, shredded tires, and rubber mats to make sure surfaces are cushioned.
  • What surfaces should be avoided in playgrounds?

    Surfaces made up of grass, dirt, or concrete should be avoided in playgrounds. A fall on these surfaces may result in scrapes, bruises, or broken bones requiring pediatric emergency care.
  • What should be the distance between playground equipment?

    The spaces between playground equipment should be at least nine feet apart to prevent falls or children becoming trapped while playing.
  • What should parents check on swing sets?

    Parents should check swing sets for sturdiness in structure as well as the ground surface. The surface under swing sets is best if it extends twice the height of the suspending bar in both the back and the front.
  • What are some "nature" hazards that can be found in playgrounds?

    Some "nature" hazards that can be found in playgrounds include large sticks or twigs that cause trips or falls, rocks and boulders with uneven surfaces or sharp edges, water leaking into the playground which may cause mold to grow or be a breeding ground for insects, and untrimmed trees that hang too close to play equipment.
  • What should fences surrounding the playground be like?

    Fences surrounding the playground should have rails children can't crawl through. They should also be tall enough and difficult to climb — smooth, taller fences are best.
  • What should parents do if they see playground dangers?

    If parents see playground dangers, they should report it to the proper authorities to ensure safer play for children.

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