Can We Provide Safe Playgrounds?
Outdoor playgrounds can be
exciting places where children explore their environment while developing
motor and social skills; however, they also can pose serious safety
hazards. With the exception of those in California, no mandatory state or
federal standards currently exist regarding the manufacture or
installation of playground equipment or surfaces.
However, the American Society
for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has established a voluntary industry
standard for public playground safety (F 1487-93), and the U.S. Consumer
Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has established voluntary guidelines.
This brochure discusses common playground hazards and recommends actions
that parents and others can take to increase playground safety.
a Playground Unsafe?
Each year hospital emergency
rooms treat an estimated 200,000 children who have been injured in
playground accidents. About 60 percent of these injuries are caused by
children falling from playground equipment onto a hard and unyielding
surface such as asphalt, concrete, or even the ground. Most playground
injuries are caused by preventable hazards. These hazards include:
Inadequate fall zones
under and spaces between playground equipment. The area under and
around equipment should be covered with a minimum of 12 inches of
protective, resilient surfacing material (such as wood chips, mulch,
or rubber), extending a minimum of 6 feet in all directions. Fall
zones around swings should extend twice the height of the swing hanger
in front of and behind the swings. Swings should not be attached to
play systems. There should be a minimum of 12 feet between play
Absence of guard rails.
Elevated surfaces such as platforms, ramps, and bridgeways should have
guard rails to prevent accidental falls.
and entanglements. Objects such as nails, screws, bolts, pipe
ends, and sharp or pointed hardware can impale or cut children. Hooks
or parts that catch strings and clothing can cause strangulation. Open
S hooks allow swing seats to slip off their chains and can cause
children to fall.
areas. Openings between posts, ladder rungs, deck levels, or
entryways are fine for foot-first entry, but they can also entrap
children's heads. Ideally, openings on playground equipment should
measure less than 3 inches or more than 9 inches.
Dangerous swing seats.
Hard wood or metal swing seats can hit children passing too closely to
or jumping off a swing. Heavy animal-type swings are particularly
dangerous because they act as battering rams; bumpers attached to
these swings do not reduce the risk of injury.
playground equipment. Equipment such as suspension bridges,
merry-go-rounds, swinging gates, and seesaws (teeter-totters) may have
moving parts that can pinch or crush children's fingers or other body
equipment. It is important to ensure that playground equipment is
appropriate to the age group using it. For example, equipment for
children in preschool should have guard rails on elevated surfaces
higher than 20 inches, and it should be separated from equipment for
school-age children. Small children may not have the coordination and
balance to climb on equipment designed for older children.
or lack of supervision. It is estimated that more than 40 percent
of playground injuries are directly related to lack of proper
supervision. Most children are unable to foresee danger.
Parents and school staff need
to be alert to potential hazards.
How Can You
Help Children Play Safely?
Proper supervision is
essential to safe play. Parents and teachers should ensure that children
observe the following rules:
Wear shoes, such as
sneakers, that do not slide on wet surfaces. However, check for
footwear rules at indoor play areas.
Do not play on slippery or
wet equipment or force body parts through small spaces.
Do not play on hot metal
surfaces, such as slides, that may cause third-degree burns.
Do not cross in front or
behind moving swings.
Get off a seesaw only when
your partner's feet are on the ground.
Do not push or pull others
while playing on climbing equipment.
How Can an
Unsafe Playground Be Made Safe?
If a playground is unsafe, it
can be renovated by making these improvements:
Install a fall zone of
appropriate materials that extends the correct distance in all
directions under all equipment.
Modify unsafe equipment if
it is economical; otherwise, unsafe equipment should be replaced.
Replace hard swing seats
with softer ones and remove animal-type swings and multiple-occupancy
Install guard or barrier
walls on all elevated surfaces, close S hooks, and modify protrusions.
appropriately and remove equipment with openings that can trap
Remove hazards that
children may trip over, such as exposed concrete footings, tree roots,
stumps, or rocks; modify containment borders and abrupt changes in
Talk with contractors and
equipment manufacturers to ensure that equipment complies with safety
Most of the following
references—those identified with an ED or EJ number—have been
abstracted and are in the ERIC database.
Consumer Product Safety
Commission. 1991. Handbook for Public Playground Safety.
Washington, DC. [1997 revised edition is available at http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/chld_sfy.html]
Jambor, T., and S.D. Palmer.
1991. Playground Safety Manual. Birmingham, AL: Injury Control
Research Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Wallach, Frances. April 1995. Playground
Safety: The Long Trail. Parks & Recreation. Arlington, VA:
National Recreation and Park Association.
This brochure is based on the
ERIC Digest Safer Playgrounds for Young Children by Charlotte M.
Hendricks (ED 355 206) and The Dirty Dozen: Are They Hiding in Your
Child's Playground? (available from the National Recreation and Park
This publication was prepared
by ACCESS ERIC with funding from the Office of Educational Research and
Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under Contract No. RR92024001.
The opinions expressed in this brochure do not necessarily reflect the
positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education. This brochure
is in the public domain. Authorization to reproduce it in whole or in part