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Playground Safety

What is it?

  • A playground is a place where children can learn, explore, and have fun outdoors. Through play, children can build strong muscles and develop skills. They can learn how to share, take turns, and play with others. Playground safety is important for everyone who visits a playground. Playground safety is the practice of looking at a playground and its structures and playing safely in the area.

  • Almost 200,000 children each year go to the hospital emergency room because they are hurt on the playground. Practicing playground safety may help keep your child safe while he plays and will decrease his chance of being injured. You must be alert to safety issues wherever your child plays. Always check the condition of a playground before allowing your child to play in it.

Follow the "5 Sʼs" of Playground Safety:

You can judge the safety of a playground quickly by using the 5 Sʼs of playground safety. S urface, S ite, S tructures, S upervision, S afe play around others.

#1 Surface:

  • Most playground injuries are caused by children falling off equipment onto the ground. Choose a playground with soft surface material. Avoid play structures that sit on grass, asphalt, concrete, or dirt. These surfaces are too hard and may cause harm if your child falls. Safe surfaces include wood chips or mulch, sand, pea gravel, shredded rubber or rubber-like surfaces.

  • Surfaces of wood, sand, or gravel should contain fill that is 12 inches deep. Soft surface material should surround all equipment at least 6 feet in all directions.

#2 Site:

Do a general "site check" of the playground area. Ask the following questions while looking at the play area:

  • Is the equipment dangerous or faulty?

    • Inspect equipment for sharp points and edges or broken parts. Look for open "S" hooks. Look for protruding (sticking out) bolts or screws that could catch clothing or cut your childʼs skin.

    • Check wooden play structures for splinters, weak spots, or breaks in the wood that could hurt your child or catch his clothing.

    • Look for spaces in equipment that may be large enough to trap your childʼs arms, legs, head, or clothing. These spaces are often found in equipment like rope ladders, slide platforms, ladder rungs (steps), and guardrails.

    • Make sure all ladder steps have good traction. All platforms that sit above ground level should have guardrails around them.

  • Is the yard area in good condition? Look for trash, glass, rusted metal and poisonous (POY-zin-us) plants in or around the playground. Look for broken concrete, tree stumps, roots, and other objects that could cause you or your child to trip. If the rubber surface is ripped, the playground is unsafe. If the wood chips, mulch, gravel, or sand are not deep enough, the play surface is unsafe. A ground surface in poor condition may not prevent serious injury if your child falls.

  • Is the right equipment available for my child? Take your child to a playground that has equipment made for children his own age. Small children can be seriously hurt on equipment that is made for older children. Also, equipment for preschoolers may not be interesting or challenging for an older child.

  • Is the playground located in a safe area? Playgrounds near a street, pond, or well should have a barrier to keep children from running into danger. For example, a child chasing a ball may forget to stop before entering the street. A barrier such as a fence, open grassy space, or hedge of bushes or plants may keep him safe.

#3 Structures:

Structures are things that your child may climb and play on. Look closely at swings, slides, and other equipment your child may use while on the playground. Check all steps and ladder rungs for good traction. Make sure they are right for your childʼs age.

  • Swings: Safe swings should be made of soft material, not metal or wood. They should be spaced at least 2 feet apart. Swing sets should be set apart from other structures. Check the swing to make sure it is not too hot before your child swings.

    • Use full bucket swings for infants and toddlers. These swings should be soft, not metal or wood. Small children may slide out of swings that are not full buckets.

    • Do not use animal swings (made in animal shapes). Small children can easily fall off these swings.

  • Slides: Check the slide to make sure it is not too hot before your child slides. Check the slide for good traction on the steps and firm ladder and platform handrails.

    • Hold on to your infant while he slides all the way down.

    • Stay close to toddlers and small children while they slide to prevent falls.

    • There should be no gap between the slide and platform. There should be a bar across the top to make your child sit down before sliding.

  • Seesaws/Merry-go-rounds: Do not let your child use a seesaw that has chains attached to it. Check to make sure there are no areas on the seesaw that could crush your childʼs hands.

    • Spring-loaded seesaws (large coil comes up from the ground) are best for preschoolers.

    • A tire or cushion should be located underneath each traditional (fulcrum-type) seesaw seat. This will keep your child from hitting the ground too hard when he seesaws down.

    • Merry-go-rounds are best for school-aged children. Check for a level platform and good handgrips.

  • Climbing structures: Climbing structures include jungle gyms, domes, arches, and sliding poles. Younger children do not have the strength and ability to climb well or to break a fall. Children under 4 years old should not use climbing structures because they are more likely to fall or get hurt.

    • Do not allow your child to play on any structure that is 8 feet or higher, such as monkey bars. If your child uses monkey bars wrong, he may be hurt. If your child falls from a tall structure, he may also be hurt.

    • Always stay close to your child when he is playing on a climbing structure. Falls and other accidents can happen very quickly.

#4 Supervision:

Children do not always use playground equipment the way it should be used. With no adult watching, your child can be injured on even the safest playground equipment. Stay with your child or make sure an adult is present while your child plays on the playground. Be alert. Always know where your child is on the playground. Remind your young child, especially preschool-aged or younger, to always play in an area where you can see him.

#5 Safe play around others:

Teach your child how to play safely around others on the playground. This will decrease the chance of injury for both your child and all children playing around him.

  • Follow the rules: Some playgrounds have signs posted listing playground rules. If you do not see a sign with rules, talk to your child before playing. Give your child some simple rules to follow that will keep him safe from injury while playing. Some good general playground rules are:

    • Do not jump off of any piece of playground equipment while it is moving.

    • Do not play on wet equipment. This increases your childʼs chance of falling or sliding off or out.

    • Come back later to structures that are overcrowded with children. Do this especially if your child is small. Too many children on one structure can lead to accidental kicking or play that is too rough for your child.

    • Do not walk in front or behind equipment that is moving, especially swings.

    • Take turns on play structures. Encourage your child and other children to go one at a time. This is especially important for sliding and going across climbers like monkey bars.

  • Wear safe clothing: Your child should always wear shoes. Shoes should be skid-resistant and sturdy enough to protect feet against glass, nails, and other objects. Clothing should be comfortable, but not too loose. Do not let your child wear jewelry like necklaces or clothing with strings. Strings, jewelry, and loose clothing can easily catch onto equipment and trap or strangle (choke to death) your child. If your child wears any of these items to the playground, remove them before he starts to play.

  • Prevent dehydration (d-hi-DRAY-shun): Bring a water bottle or other liquid to the playground for your child to drink. Playing in the sunshine for long periods of time will make your child thirsty. Dehydration (too much water lost from the body) may cause your child to be less alert and more clumsy while playing. Put sunscreen on your childʼs skin to protect him from sunburn.

What should I do if someone is injured on the playground?

If your child is injured, stay calm. If you are calm, your child can remain calm as well. If the injury is mild, get a first aid kit and treat the injury. If you think your child may have hurt his neck, back, or head, tell someone to call 911. Do not try to move your child. If you have other children with you, ask other adults to help you watch them. Stay by the injured child until help arrives.

What should I do if a playground is not safe?

Leave the playground with your child and explain why the area is not safe. Contact the person in charge of the playground immediately. Write and call the person or organization in charge of the playground. The playground should be fixed quickly to stop other children from getting hurt.

Where can I find more information on playground safety?

Contact the following organizations to learn about childrenʼs safety programs and the most current information on playground safety:

  • National Program for Playground Safety
    WRC 205, University of Northern Iowa
    Cedar Falls , Iowa 50614-0618
    Phone: 1- 800 - 554-7529
    Web Address:
  • U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
    Office of Information and Public Affairs
    Washington , District of Columbia 20207-0001
    Phone: 1- 800 - 638-2772
    Web Address:

Care Agreement

You have the right to keep your child safe on the playground. To help with this plan, you must learn about playground safety. You can then discuss safety with your caregiver if you have questions or concerns. You always have the right to refuse the instructions on this sheet.The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.