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Playground Safety

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 4, 2023.

What do I need to know about playground safety?

Playground safety means inspecting a playground, and playing safely in the area. Playground safety may help keep your child safe while he plays and will decrease his risk for injury. Be alert to safety issues wherever your child plays. Always check the condition of a playground before you let your child play in it. Do not let him play on wet equipment. This increases your child's risk for injury.

How do I check for general playground safety?

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.

  • Inspect equipment for sharp points and edges or broken parts. Look for open hooks. Look for bolts or screws that could catch clothing or cut skin.
  • Check wooden play structures for splinters, weak spots, or breaks in the wood. These could hurt your child or catch his clothing.
  • Look for spaces in equipment that may be large enough to trap your child's arms, legs, head, or clothing. These spaces are often found in rope ladders, slide platforms, ladder rungs (steps), and guardrails.
  • Check all ladder steps for good traction. All platforms that sit above ground level should have guardrails around them.
  • Look for trash, glass, rusted metal, and poisonous plants in or around the playground. Look for broken concrete, tree stumps, roots, and other objects that could cause your child to trip. Look for ripped rubber surfaces, chipped wood, or shallow gravel or sand. A ground surface in poor condition may not prevent serious injury if your child falls.
  • Check for barriers around playgrounds near a street, pond, or well. 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.

What kind of surface should a playground have?

Most playground injuries are caused by children falling off equipment onto the ground. Choose a playground with soft surface material. Do not let your child play on 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, and rubber. 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.

What do I need to know about swing safety?

  • Swing sets should be separated from other structures. They should be spaced at least 2 feet apart.
  • Safe swings should be made of soft material, not metal or wood. 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 swings made in animal shapes. Small children can easily fall off these swings.
  • Teach your child not to walk in front of or behind anyone who is swinging. He should walk as far away from the swings as possible so he is not knocked over.
  • Do not allow your child to stand on the swing. He should only swing in a seated position. Do not allow him to jump out of the swing while it is moving.
  • Do not allow your child to swing with another person. He should not stand on the back of a swing someone is using. He should also not sit in an adult's lap on the swing.

What do I need to know about seesaw or merry-go-round safety?

  • 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 child's hands.
  • Spring-loaded seesaws (large coil comes up from the ground) are best for preschoolers.
  • A tire or cushion should be located underneath each seesaw seat. This will keep your child from hitting the ground too hard.
  • Do not allow your child to sit with anyone on his side of the seesaw. Each side should have only 1 child. Make sure your child does not turn around on the seat. He should face the child on the other side. Do not allow him to stand on the seat or try to walk from one side of the seesaw to the other.
  • Merry-go-rounds are best for school-aged children. Check for a level platform and good hand grips. Check for any gaps that could pinch your child's hand.

What do I need to know about slide safety?

  • Make sure you see no gap between the slide and platform. Look for a bar across the top to make your child sit down before he 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 onto your infant while he slides all the way down. Stay close to toddlers and small children while they slide.
  • Do not allow your child to slide with another person. Only 1 child should slide at a time.
  • Teach your child to make sure no one is at the bottom of the slide before he slides.
  • Do not allow your older child to slide head first. He should always slide feet first. Do not let him hang off the side of the slide or try to climb up the slide.

What do I need to know about climbing safety?

  • 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 younger than 4 years should not use climbing structures.
  • Do not allow your child to play on any structure that is 8 feet or higher, such as monkey bars. Equipment higher than 8 feet increases your child's risk for injury. Any surface below the structure will not be safe enough to protect your child.
  • Do not allow your child to play on climbing structures that are crowded. The structures are only designed to be safe for a few children to play on them at the same time. Your child may have more trouble finding a safe hand or foot grip if more than a few children are climbing.
  • Always stay close to your child when he is playing on a climbing structure. Falls and other accidents can happen very quickly.

What do I need to know about 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. Be alert. Always know where your child is on the playground. Remind your young child, especially preschool-aged or younger, to play in an area where you can see him.

What else can I do to help my child stay safe on the playground?

  • Make sure your child wears 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 such as necklaces or clothing with strings. Strings, jewelry, and loose clothing can easily catch onto equipment and trap or strangle your child. If your child wears any of these items to the playground, remove them before he starts to play.
  • Prevent dehydration. Bring a water bottle or other liquid to the playground for your child to drink. A long period of play in the sunshine will make your child thirsty. Dehydration may cause him to be less alert and more clumsy while playing.
  • Put sunscreen on your child's skin to protect him from sunburn. Use a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30. Apply a generous amount on all exposed areas of your child's face. Remember to apply it on his ears and the back of his neck. Use a waterproof sunscreen if your child will be playing in water.

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.

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 healthcare provider 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.

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Further information

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