The squeals and shouts of our rambunctious, healthy kids enjoying their outdoor fun in the yard are reassuring and comforting for parents to hear – as long as those shouts don’t become screams of pain or an accident. The backyard is supposed to be a fun place for outdoor play and exercise, not a danger zone. Young children need the physical benefits of exercise, motor skills development, and fresh air, not to mention a place to work off their boundless energy.
You Can Keep Your Kids Safe
Fortunately, these tragedies are preventable. Combined with careful adult supervision, proper playground construction and maintenance can greatly minimize the risk of injury to young children.
Practice Playground Safety at Home, at School, and at the Park
This quick-course has been written to help alert you to the danger signs in play areas. You can take control at home by taking precautions with your own play area. And you can take a new look at other playgrounds for the same hazards. These include lack of proper surfacing to cushion falls, lack of guardrails to prevent falls, head entrapment hazards, and other injury-causing hazards.
Cushion Falls With Protective Surfacing
Since almost 60% of all injuries are caused by falls to the ground, protective surfacing under and around all playground equipment is critical to reduce the risk of serious head injury. And because head impact injuries from a fall can be life threatening, the more shock absorbing a surface can be made, the less likely any injury will be severe.
Of course, all injuries due to falls cannot be prevented no matter what playground surfacing material is used.
What to Avoid
Do NOT Use Concrete or Asphalt. Falls on asphalt and concrete can result in serious head injury and death. Do not place playground equipment over these surfaces.
Avoid Grass and Dirt. Grass and turf also lose their ability to absorb shock through wear and environmental conditions. Avoid earth surfaces such as soils and hard packed dirt. Always use protective surfacing.
What Should You Use?
Loose-fill surfacing materials. These include double shredded bark mulch, shredded tires, wood chips, fine sand or fine gravel. The greater the depth, the greater the shock-absorption. Loose-fill materials should not be installed over hard surfaces such as asphalt or concrete.
Manufactured synthetic surfaces. These include rubber or rubber over foam mats or tiles, poured-in-place urethane and rubber compositions. The initial cost is higher but less maintenance is required. Be sure to ask the manufacturer for test data on shock absorption. Some materials require installation over a hard surface while others do not.
How Much Should You Use?
If using loose-fill material at home, maintain a constant depth of at least 6 inches of material. 9 or 12 inches is recommended. The cushioning benefits of fine sand and gravel increase at 12 inches, according to the CPSC.
What’s the Buffer Zone?
Create a buffer zone, covered with a protective surfacing material, under and around all equipment where a child might fall. The protective surfacing material should extend a minimum of 6 feet in all directions from the perimeter of the equipment. To prevent further injury from a fall, this area must be free of other equipment and obstacles that might strike a child.
Dig a Pit
Loose-Fill (sand, fine gravel, mulch, wood chips, etc.) material requires a method of containment such as a retaining barrier or excavated pit. It also requires good drainage underneath the material, periodic renewal or replacement, and continuous maintenance (e.g., leveling, grading, sifting, raking) to maintain its depth and to remove foreign matter.
Replace Loose-Fill Periodically
Wet weather, freezing temperatures, normal use over time, and contamination will decompose, pulverize, and compact material. Be sure to renew or replace it before it turns hard.
The Nitty Gritty on Sand and Gravel
Although cheap, sand is the least desirable option. Sand can scatter easily outside of your containment area. It also hardens quickly when wet, is abrasive to floor surfaces when tracked indoors, and attracts animals as a litter box. Gravel is more difficult to walk on and can present a tripping hazard if scattered.
Swing Safety Zones
Swing sets should be securely anchored. Swings also should have a buffer zone with protective surfacing extending a minimum of 6 feet from the outer edge of the support structure on each side. The use zone in front and back of the swing should be even larger, and extend out a minimum distance of twice the height of the swing as measured from the ground to the swing hangers on support structure.
Rules on Swing Spacing
To prevent injuries from impact with moving swings, swings should not be too close together or too close to support structures. Swing spacing should be at least 8 inches between suspended swings and 8 inches from the support frame. The minimum clearance between the ground and underside of swing seat should be 8 inches.
That’s how to create the best buffer zone between your child and potential injury. Now, read on for more equipment safety guidelines.
Consider a contractor if you are not handy. Poorly installed playgrounds can be an added hazard.
Playgrounds should be inspected on a regular basis. Inspect protective surfacing, especially loose-fill, and maintain the proper depth. The following conditions should be removed, corrected or repaired immediately to prevent injuries:
Exposed equipment footings.
Scattered debris, litter, rocks, or tree roots.
Rust and chipped paint on metal components.
Splinters, large cracks, and decayed wood components.
Deterioration and corrosion on structural components that connect to the ground.
Missing or damaged equipment components, such as handholds, guardrails, swing seats. 1. Install Guard Rails – Platforms more than 30″ above the ground should have guardrails to prevent falls.
2. Avoid Unsafe Openings – In general, openings that are closed on all sides, should be less than 3 1/2″ or greater than 9″. Openings that are between 3′ 1/2″ and 9″ present a head entrapment and strangling hazard.
3. Remove Pinch or Crush Points – There should be no exposed moving parts that may present a pinching or crushing hazard.
4. Never Wear Bicycle Helmets on the Playground – Bike helmets can get stuck in openings on playground equipment, resulting in strangulation or hanging.
5. Avoid Dressing Children in Loose or Stringed Clothing on the Playground. Clothing strings, loose clothing, and stringed items placed around the neck can catch on playground equipment and strangle children.
Remember to supervise, and teach your child safe play. Teach your child not to walk or play close to a moving swing, and never to tie ropes to playground equipment.
It’s not hard to make your playground safe, when you work from the ground up.
Install protective surfacing on the ground, use safe equipment, and maintain your play area.
With this game plan, the call is “safe at home!”