Emergency rooms treat roughly a quarter of a million playground-associated injuries every year, yet the majority of these injuries are avoidable. As the amount of injuries increases, it is important for public entities to design, build and maintain playgrounds to better promote safety. Playgrounds should balance injury prevention with the desire to promote children’s ability to test their limits, build muscle, gain confidence and learn personal interaction.
There are many risks that public entities should be aware of before installation of equipment and during inspections. At a minimum, inspections should take place both during equipment installation and on an annual basis. More frequent inspections may be necessary for popular playgrounds with high levels of usage.
Risks On Your Radar
1. Banned Equipment: Before and after installing any piece of equipment that has been gifted to you, check with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to ensure it has not been banned or ruled to be dangerous. If an installed piece is later ruled dangerous or banned, it should be removed immediately.
2. Splash Pads: Splash pads are a popular new addition popping up at many public parks. But, there are a few items to keep in mind prior to considering installation.
- Surface Safety: Choose a surface that provides enough friction to reduce slipping. Be proactive about cleaning and disinfecting the surface to minimize the formation of algae, mold or bacteria.
- Water Safety: There are many guidelines and recommendations established by the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC). Following these guidelines will help combat waterborne illnesses and ensure the splash pad is a safe and clean place to play.
- Slide Safety: While there are currently no guidelines for slides at a splash pad park, if opting to include a slide, it should meet the standards of a slide installed at a regular park. This includes, but is not limited to, placing railings and a mat at the bottom of the slide. For information on slide guidelines, view the CPSC Public Playground Safety Handbook.
3. Trip Hazards: During all inspections, check for trip hazards including rocks, wood chips on the sidewalk, tree limbs or exposed footings.
4. Fall Hazards/Railings: Falls are the most common cause of injury, representing nearly half of all playground accidents. Installing and maintaining guardrails on elevated equipment will help prevent falls. If a piece of equipment lacks a rail at an elevated surface, do not hesitate to contact the manufacturer to add one. Soft rubber surfaces may also reduce cuts, scrapes, and other injuries resulting from a fall on a harder surface.
5. Choking and Entanglement Hazards: To avoid risks like this, ensure bolts, hooks and projections have minimal exposure. It can be extremely easy for a child’s clothing to become entangled on playground equipment. Consider signage reminding parents to have children remove jewelry, jackets or clothing with drawstrings that could cause choking or entanglement. Railings to prevent falls should also have bars spaced close enough to prevent children from sticking their heads through the bars and getting stuck.
6. Equipment Spacing: Playground equipment should be installed with a fall zone in mind. A fall zone extends six feet beyond the equipment. A proper fall zone prevents children from coming into contact with another piece of equipment if a fall does occur. Hitting another piece of equipment can increase the severity of the injury caused by the initial fall.
7. Signs: Signs should be posted in areas visible to equipment users and caregivers. Signs should provide guidance on the age appropriateness of the equipment. Other signage you may want to consider includes supervision and warnings for hard or hot surfaces.
Taking the time to proactively safeguard your community’s playground for the users will also help protect your public entity’s finances. Documenting inspections and any repairs on equipment or grounds will demonstrate your attempt to operate in a reasonable manner.