Playground Safety: Public and Home Playgrounds

Each year, more than 200,000 children go to hospital emergency rooms with playground-related injuries according to studies by The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).   There is particular concern of fatalities that result from hangings from ropes, cords, homemade rope, swings, and other similar items.  It is important to understand safety standards for playground equipment, which are aimed at reducing the risk of strangulation, and which require the ropes be secured at both ends and the makers of home equipment warn against attaching additional ropes or other foreign objections around playground equipment. It is important that parents, babysitters, teachers, and other adults understand the risks faced by children while using both public and private playgrounds. 

With regard to private playgrounds, parents are encouraged to install and maintain protective surfacing, eliminate unsafe ropes and check for potential hazardous hooks and edges on swings and slides.   Dirt and grass, which are the most prevalent surfaces under home playground equipment, do not adequately protect children from serious head injuries.  The CPSC recommends a protective type of shock-absorbing surface under all playground equipment. 

The CPSC, in order to help prevent injuries from falls and other hazards on home playgrounds, has the following safety tips:

  • Install and maintain at least 9 inches of wood chips, mulch, or shredded rubber for play equipment up to 7 feet high.  If sand or pea gravel is used, install at least a 9 inch layer for play equipment up to 5 feet high.  Or, use surfacing mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like materials.
  • Install protective surfacing at least 6 feet in all directions from play equipment.  For swings, the surface should extend, in back and front, twice the height of the suspending bar. 
  • Never attach ropes, jump ropes, clothes lines, or pet leashes to the equipment.  This can present a serious strangulation hazard to children. 
  • Smooth all sharp points or edges, and cover open “S” hooks or protruding bolts. 
  • Check for openings in guard rails or between ladder wrongs.  Spaces should be either less than 3 & ½ inches or more than 9 inches so that they do not present an entrapment hazard.
  • Always supervise young children to make sure they are safe.

When taking children to a public playground, always inspect the playground and equipment to make sure that both are in good condition and that no hazards are present.  Inspect the equipment carefully, looking for appropriate surfacing material.  Inspect the equipment to make sure that no ropes or foreign objects are tied to the equipment.  Check for exposed rocks, tree stumps, concrete footings, and sharp edges on playground equipment.  If you see a safety hazard, notify the playground owner or manager.

For additional information, and for great resources with regard to the issue of both home and public playground safety, including a home playground safety checklist for use in your own playground, please visit the following websites:  www.cpsc.gov or www.kaboom.org.  While on the CPSC website, check out the Handbook for Public Playground Safety and look for other publications.  You may also call the CPSC hotline at 1-800-638-2772.  KaBOOM! is the national non-profit organization committed to building safe playgrounds for America’s children through partnership with individuals, community groups, and businesses. 

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