Playground Safety Checklist

Suzanne Oliver
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Little boy hanging upside down on a monkey bar

It was a typical afternoon on the playground, and you burnt the backs of your little legs on that awful, aluminum slide.  And while swinging, you nicked your little fingers on those rusty, old chains. The monkey bars were 12 feet high and everything was made of red-hot metal with sharp, jagged edges. Gee, playgrounds were a dangerous place. Did our parents really let us roam free, only to come home wounded?

As emergency room visits climbed, adults took action and rallied, declaring that certain norms such as blacktops and ropes were hazardous. As recently as 2009, Safe Kids USA estimated that 220,000 children ages 14 and under were treated in ERs for injuries associated with playgrounds. The need for safety standards was all too apparent.

In response, the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPA) developed a S.A.F.E. checklist for parents:
Supervision is present, but strings and ropes aren’t.
All children play on Age-appropriate equipment.
Falls to surface are cushioned.
Equipment is safe.

Thankfully, playsets sold today are made from sanded wood, powder-coated steel and UV-protected plastic. Chains have rubber grips and the hard edges have been rounded or covered to eliminate snagging or scratching. Here are a few more safety advances as well as sound advice for parents.

  • An adult should be present at all times, discouraging risky behavior and checking for any broken equipment.
  • Remove any drawstrings from children’s clothing. Never allow them to wear necklaces, helmets, purses or scarves on the playground. These may cause accidental strangulation.
  • Preschoolers, ages 2 to 5, and children ages 5 to 12 are developmentally different and need different equipment in separate areas. Playgrounds should have signs to indicate the recommended age range.
  • Nearly 70 percent of all playground injuries, according to the NPPA, are related to falls. Surfaces should not be concrete, asphalt, grass, blacktop, packed dirt or rocks. Acceptable shock-absorbing ones include mulch, pea gravel, sand, wood chips, synthetic turf and rubber mats.
  • Check that S-hooks are closed, bolts are not protruding and there are no exposed footings.
  • Metal slides still exist today and can cause burns. Make sure the surface is shaded and not hot. Other hazards still in play: monkey bars, seesaws, merry-go-rounds, swinging rings and trapeze bars.
  • Think twice about letting your children play on an outdoor playground if the temperature is below 15°F or above 90°F.
  • Surfacing should be at least 12 inches deep and extend at least 6 feet in all directions around stationary equipment. For swings, make sure that the surfacing extends twice the height of the suspending bar, both in back and front. So if the top of the swing set is 10 feet high, the surfacing should extend 20 feet.
  • Railing needs to be less than 3.5 inches apart or more than 9 inches apart to keep a child from getting their head stuck between the bars.

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