The Most Important Playground Safety Features

Featured Article, Health and Safety

Kids get hurt. This may be one of the things they do best, actually. They especially get hurt on playgrounds. More than 200,000 children under the age of 14 receive treatment in emergency rooms each year for playground-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To reduce the risk of injury on playgrounds, parents need to look for these playground safety features to help keep kids safe.

Safe and Appropriate Surfaces
The first non-negotiable safety feature a playground must have is an appropriate surface under the equipment to minimize the impact of any falls. If you see concrete, packed dirt, grass or asphalt under play equipment, find a new park.

Acceptable surfaces include:

  • Engineered wood fiber
  • Wood chips
  • Sand or pea gravel
  • Synthetic or rubber tiles
  • Poured-in-place rubber

Kids will still fall, but a fall onto wood chips causes some bruises or scrapes while a fall onto concrete could be life-threatening.

Proper Spacing of Equipment
Every parent has witnessed close calls near swings when kids, lost in play, run directly into the path of a master swinger. Having adequate spacing between different play equipment minimizes the risk of children running into each other. Pay special attention to the spacing between swings and other equipment, including slide exit zones. Kids should have enough room in these areas to prevent overcrowding, which can lead to injury.

Line of Sight
Good adult supervision at the playground prevents many injuries. Playgrounds should have adequate lines of sight so that parents and adults supervising play can easily see children throughout the play space.

Adequate Openings
Each piece of play equipment needs proper openings to prevent entrapment. Kids like to crawl through open spaces including between bars, under guardrails, and through barriers that probably weren’t designed for such play. The Consumer Product Safety Commission advises that openings on playground equipment should be less than 3.5 inches or larger than 9 inches to prevent head entrapment that could cause strangulation.

RELATED: Top 10 Classic Playground Games

Covered and Closed Hardware
Entanglement and impalement are two other major concerns on playgrounds. These injuries occur when children’s clothing becomes entangled in equipment or when protruding hardware pierces children’s bodies. The safety features every playground needs to minimize these injuries include:

  • Closed “S” hooks or “C” hooks
  • Covered bolts or bolts with minimal exposure past the nut (no more than two threads)
  • Ropes secured at the top and bottom with minimal slack, to avoid forming a loop or noose
  • Projections that decrease in diameter from surfaces and don’t become hooks for clothing

While you can’t check every nut and bolt on a play structure, be aware of these hazards, particularly at the tops of slides.

Guardrails and Barriers
Kids like to climb, and playground equipment is made for climbing. As they climb onto higher and higher platforms, the severity of any injuries caused by falls increases. The recommended use of guardrails and barriers is different for preschool-aged children than for school-aged children.

For preschoolers, guardrails are required on platforms higher than 20 inches, and platforms higher than 30 inches should have barriers. For school-aged children, guardrails are recommended on platforms higher than 30 inches, and platforms higher than 48 inches should have barriers.

Because the risk of falls is greater for younger children, don’t let younger children play on equipment designed for older ones.

Tripping Hazards
Kids trip over their own two feet more often than not, so eliminating extra tripping hazards on a playground provides an extra degree of safety.

To minimize tripping, a playground needs:

  • Completely buried and covered footings for all the equipment
  • A smooth and even surface with no sudden elevation changes
  • Play areas clear of tree roots, tree stumps and large rocks

A smooth, even surface helps prevent serious injury from tripping.

Guidelines in the National Recreation and Park Association’s publication, The Dirty Dozen, help parents and caregivers recognize the most common playground hazards and are a great resource for more information about the safety features every playground needs.

While you can’t protect your children from all injuries, knowing how to identify safe playgrounds is a good start. Stay safe, and have fun.


David Reeves is Marketing Manager of Playland Inc. in Carrollton, GA. Playland Inc., is a total solutions manufacturer and supplier to many industries, with its roots deep in the park and playground markets including churches, schools, and day care centers. It has developed into the only company in its field to offer direct to all of its customers, the ability to purchase outdoor play structures, shelters, shade, indoor playgrounds, water slides and site amenities. Connect with SII on LinkedIn or Facebook.

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