Playgrounds are places of fun. Swing sets, monkey bars, and twisting slides are all a part of why playgrounds attract so many children. But, ensure that any playground your child uses follows playground safety guidelines. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), each year, over 200,000 children are hospitalized during park excursions. Most of these injuries are from falling off of tall playground equipment onto the ground below. While one might suppose that playgrounds should be completely innocuous—absolutely risk-free—this is probably a quixotic and, honestly, counterproductive idea. After all, in promoting physical activity, playgrounds act as de-facto gyms where children voluntarily hone their motor controls. Like how first-hand experience teaches an infant how to walk, the rough-and-tumble playground setting plays an important role in teaching children how to maneuver their bodies at higher levels of complexity. But of course, safety still matters—that’s why there are playground safety guidelines. Children shouldn’t risk hospitalization for their playground maneuvers. Thus, to balance playgrounds’ inherent risk of danger with their roles as educational tools, parents should follow playground safety guidelines to ensure that a playground isn’t too risky for their children to use. Of the many playground safety guidelines, pay special attention to the emphasis on play-area surfacing. Since high falls cause most playground-related hospitalizations, one of the most important aspects of playground risk reduction is enforcing high standards of play-ground-surface safety. Without further ado, here are the essential playground safety guidelines:
1. Examine the Floors: Examine the surfacing for playgrounds that you visit. This is one of the most important playground safety guidelines because of the many injuries caused by improper playground flooring. According to the CPSC, playground equipment should never be placed atop hard asphalt or concrete. Such surfacing is the most dangerous surfacing for playgrounds because it is unforgivingly hard, meaning that it will not dampen the impact of falling. Thus, look for playgrounds built on soft play-ground surfaces. A rubber play-area surfacing is the chief example of a minimal-risk safety mat. Firstly, rubber naturally cushions. And when produced in the right durometer (i.e., softness), it absorbs shock and impact. In addition, rubber play mats are non-slip surfaces due to rubber’s naturally high coefficient of friction. With so many children running around, slip-and-fall safety is indispensable. If a child falls either on the ground or from a playground structure, rubber cushions the fall, reducing the chances that a child will be seriously hurt. The thicker the play-area surface, the more forgiving it is on a falling body. In sum, the most straightforward and holistic way of determining whether a playground is safe is by examining the quality of its play-area surfacing.
2. Six-Feet Rule: Make sure that the play-area rubber surface extends at least six feet in every direction from the edges of any play equipment—especially swings. In cases where sand or mulch are used as play-area surfacing, the surface must be at least 12 inches deep. This depth minimizes a child’s risk of injury—even if she jumps from the swing set. Keep in mind—sand and mulch are loose, so the play-area surface may not be evenly distributed. And over time, loose fillings need to be replenished; or else, the playground surfacing will no longer meet the criterion for safety. A playground mat used in a public facility is likely fall-height tested, which means that it’s certified to prevent critical injury from a fall of about six feet high. While these mats don’t guarantee against minor injury, they will often ameliorate the damage caused by falls from taller heights. While installing safety playground flooring tiles is essential to ensuring that a playground is safe, it’s also critical that you assess whether the area and depth of the play-area surfacing are adequate.
3. 30/9 Rule: To avoid any mid-air collisions, make sure that all play-equipment more than 30 inches high are spaced at least 9 feet apart so that any adventurous child who jumps from her structures doesn’t hit a different one. If you’re constructing or upgrading a backyard playground, use a tape measurer to ensure that your playground structures adhere to this standard.
4. Remove Protrusions: Check for any dangerous hardware protruding from the playground’s structures. Open “S” hooks or jagged bolt ends are common examples. Even adults fall prey to a protruding hook, beam, or stub. Children are no exception.
5. No Sharp Edges: Verify that there aren’t any sharp edges anywhere on your playground. When children use playground equipment, they are oftentimes going fast—think of slides and swing sets, just to name two. Plus, they are always running around, making any sharp edges even more dangerous. Ensure that no sharp edges might injure your children.
6. Remove Obstacles and Keep Floors Clean: Look for any tripping hazards, such as chipped concrete, rocks, or cracks. While this is simpler in playgrounds with rubber play-area surfacing, it is more difficult in those that use sand or wood mulch as surfacing. Loose fillings tend to disguise any obstacles in the surfacing, making them harder for parents to identify. Obstacle identification is one of the respects in which rubber playground flooring tiles are advantageous over other play-area surfacing options.
7. Be Wary of Old Equipment: Beware of playgrounds that look older and are rusted over. Their structures tend to be unreliable since they likely need repair. As well, don’t forget to examine the rubber play-area surfacing because, although rubber is highly durable, it will eventually need replacement. Dilapidated playground conditions are a glaring, red flag.
8. Supervise: We at Rubber-Cal cannot stress this enough: Supervise your children while they use playground equipment. While you can be more relaxed if the proper safety measures are in place, you should still remain diligent. Remember, these are principles for minimizing risk—not guarantees of safety.
What Is the Most Important Safety Feature on Any Playground?
The most important safety feature on any playground is its type of surfacing. A soft playground matting, such as rubber, is crucial to proper playground safety. According to the CPSC, concrete and asphalt are highly unsafe play-area surfaces because they do not cushion the impact from accidental falls. Thus, to assess whether a playground follows playground safety guidelines, start by assessing whether its surfacing is of the proper material. Good play-ground surfacing is what is the most important safety feature on any playground.
What Can I Use for a Playground Surface?
For a playground surface, use rubber playground mats. Rubber is durable, shock-absorbent, slip-resistant, and water-resistant, making it the best material for play-area surfacing. While playgrounds are meant to be fun for kids, they can become dangerous without following playground safety guidelines. One of the most important playground safety guidelines is safe play-area surfacing: Time and time again, rubber playground mats have proven to be one of the best play-area surfaces. Nowadays, a rubber mat for playground safety is so readily available and affordable that your next playground revamp likely won’t be an expensive project. And if you’re opting to use the local playground, make sure that it accords with all of the above playground safety guidelines. In any case, playground safety starts with its play-area surfacing. And whenever you ask yourself, “What can I use for a playground surface?” remember that rubber is probably your best bet. Once you have good playground tiles, like ones made of rubber, the rest is easy.