Play at your own risk.

Keeping kids safe on playgrounds.

by Bethany Peak

iStock_000004485731SmallAs temperatures heat up, children will inevitably be splashing in pools, chasing fireflies, and spending time at the playground. Playgrounds should be sources of great fun and exercise for children, not the cause of injuries, 200,000 of which are experienced by children on America’s playgrounds each year. If your organization has a playground, be sure to take precautions to reduce the risk of accidents.

The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) recommends all playgrounds adhere to the S.A.F.E. guidelines:

S – Proper supervision of children on playgrounds.

A – Designing age-appropriate playgrounds.

F – Proper fall surfacing under and around playgrounds.

E – Properly maintaining playground equipment.


Don’t let children play alone. Adults should be present to watch for potential hazards, observe, intercede, and facilitate play when necessary. Supervising adults should keep an eye out for children wearing loose ties, hooded sweatshirts, jewelry, or untied shoelaces, all of which could get caught on equipment and are notorious in strangulation injuries.

Adults should plan ahead of time how they will respond to an injury, including providing for continued supervision while the injured child is being assisted. State law may regulate adult-to-child ratios and the presence of 2 adults at all times is strongly recommended.


Preschoolers and school-age children are developmentally different. Equipment for each should be in separate areas to keep the playground safe and fun for all.

When purchasing and installing a playground, use a professional. Don’t attempt to design the playground yourself, instead, buy from a manufacturer that adheres to strict industry standards set by ASTM International (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials).

Elevated play areas should be protected with guardrails – 20 inches above ground for preschoolers and 30 inches for school-age children. The space between handrails and ladder rungs should be no larger than 3.5 x 9 inches to prevent head entrapment.

Prevent crashes and allow children to move freely around equipment by spacing swings at least 2 feet apart and 30 inches from side poles. Don’t forget to anchor all equipment firmly to the ground.


70% of playground injuries result from falls, so the material underneath and surrounding the playground should be soft and shock absorbing. For outdoor playgrounds, use sand, pea gravel, wood fiber or mulch, poured-in-place rubber, rubber mats, or rubber tiles. For indoor playgrounds, use 9 to 12 inches of shock-absorbing surface material. Never use concrete, asphalt, grass, blacktop, packed dirt, or rocks.


Avoid injuries by keeping up with routine maintenance and repair:

  • Clean regularly;
  • Remove hazards such as broken glass, sharp metal objects, trash, or clutter;
  • Lubricate moving parts; and
  • Repair or replace splintered or cracked wood.

Regularly inspect for:

  • Worn or missing parts;
  • Loose or protruding bolts;
  • Sharp edges or points;
  • Damaged “S” hooks (they should be entirely closed);
  • Torn or frayed rope (ropes used as part of the playground should be secured on both ends to prevent strangulation);
  • Loose sewing connections in cargo webbing; and
  • Torn, frayed, or exposed components.

Monitor equipment during warm months to make sure it does not get too hot. Use shade structures to protect the equipment from the sun and always check for hot surfaces before allowing children to play on equipment.

Follow these guidelines, and rate your playground equipment with the NPPS Safety Report Card at

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