10 POTENTIAL PITFALLS IN YOUR PLAYGROUND
Why do we take playground safety so seriously? Because approximately 200,000 kids will be injured and 15 children will die from avoidable playground related accidents every year according to the National Recreation and Park Association.
Keep watch for the 10 probable pitfalls you’ll peek at a park:
1. IMPROPER SAFETY SURFACING
The leading cause of playground related injuries is improper safety surfacing. Ground surface area around playground equipment should be covered in an impact attenuation (cushioning) material rated for the height of the play equipment to prevent life threatening injuries. Though these materials wont stop non lethal injuries such as broken arms, properly installed safety surfacing will greatly reduce the risk of lethal falls.
Potential Surfacing Pitfalls
- Blacktop/ Asphalt
- Compacted Earth
- Pea Gravel/ Sand (near play equipment over 4ft tall)
2. INADEQUATE USE ZONE AND OVERCROWDING
The area directly surrounding play equipment that children are most likely to fall into is considered the “use zone” by ASTM and playground best practices standards. This area should be covered in approved safety surfacing and be free of obstacles, debre, and other equipment to prevent the possibility of a child falling off of one structure and striking another. Some use zones may overlap for better playground flow but an over crowded play areas can create congestion and dangerous play conditions.
Potential Use Zone Pitfalls
- Clear use zones should extend a minimum of 6 ft in all directions of any equipment.
- Use zones should extend 8ft from any slide over 8ft tall.
- The use zone in front of and behind a swing should equal twice the height of the swing.
- The use zone of stationary equipment less than 30” tall may overlap completely, however, use zones around equipment taller than 30” must be separated by a minimum of 9ft.
- Nothing may share the use zone in front of or behind swing sets, slide exit areas, merry go rounds, or standing rocking equipment.
3. LACK OF SUPERVISION
Obviously the better the supervision of a playground, the safer it is. As kids challenge their abilities, they may not be able to recognize new hazards. The play area should be designed to maximize sight lines for caregivers, parents, and attendees.
4. PROTRUSION & ENTANGLEMENT HAZARDS
Components or hardware that could impale, slice or crush a child if fell against or under are hazards. Often these same, or similar, threats could hook hood strings or cloths leading to entanglement or strangulation. Though these dangers should be taken care of throughout a system, special care should be taken around slides and moving components as they pose the most risk.
Potential Protrusion Pitfalls
- Rungs or handrails capable of penetrating the eye.
- Hardware that forms a hook or leaves a gap between components.
- Bold end that extend past the nut.
- Open “S” type hooks
- Moving parts that may pinch fingers or clothes
5. ENTRAPMENT IN OPENINGS
Generally, there should be no openings on playground equipment that measures between 3.5 and 9 inches to protect against head and appendage entrapment. Kids generally enter openings feet first without considering if their head will also fit. Limiting gaps limits entrapment.
Potential Entrapment Pitfalls
- Opening at the top of a slide.
- Openings on climbing equipment where the distance between rungs may be less than 9 inches.
- Openings between platforms
- Openings under moving equipment such as suspension bridges and track riders.
6. TRIPPING HAZARDS
Trip hazards are often caused by poor maintenance and upkeep.
Common Tripping Pitfalls
- Exposed concrete Footing
- Change in elevation
- Tree Roots and Stumps
- Debris and Trash
7. INAPPROPRIATELY AGED ACTIVITIES
Not all equipment is made for every age of adventurer. A well designed playground will have obstacles installed all age groups with a gradual increase in difficulty. It is the responsibility of the park owner to cater to the children expected to use the equipment and install appropriate equipment. However, it is also the responsibility of the child and parent to make sure children are limited to appropriately challenging play. For more information on age appropriate play click here.
In order for a playground to remain “safe”, proper playground maintenance should be done regularly.
- Missing or broken components
- Unsecured hardware
- Structural materials should not show signs of deterioration
9. PLATFORMS WITH NO GUARDRAILS
All elevated platforms should have guardrails to prevent falls.
Preschool age children are at more risk from falls; therefore equipment for their age group should have:
- Guardrails on elevated platforms higher than 20 inches
- Protective barriers on platforms higher than 30 inches
Equipment intended for 5-12 year old children should have:
- Guardrails on elevated platforms higher than 30 inches
- Protective barriers on platforms above 48 inches
10. EQUIPMENT NOT RECOMMENDED FOR COMMERCIAL USE
Some equipment has been deemed too dangerous for public areas by the CPSC (Consumer Products Safety Commission). These structures are related to severe injuries or even death on multiple occasions.
- Heavy swings such as animal figures
- Multiple occupancy/ glider type swings
- Free swinging ropes that may fray or form loops
- Swinging exercise rings and trapeze bars