Safety is Paramount when Planning and Maintaining Playgrounds

You’ve heard the old saying, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to.” Well, that is a good thing when it comes to playground equipment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it has been estimated that 220,000 children ages 14 and under are injured each year by playground equipment-related incidents; about 76 percent occur on public playgrounds and the remaining 24 percent happen on residential playgrounds. That’s a lot of trips to the emergency room.

Whose idea was it to create play areas? In the 19th century, developmental psychologists such as Friedrich Fröbel proposed playgrounds as a developmental aid and as a method to instill in children a sense of fair play and good manners. Early in the 20th century, as streets became reserved for motor vehicles, children were confined to segregated areas, playgrounds, to keep them out of harm’s way (Playground Facts for Kids, Kiddie Encyclopedia, May 2020). Since then playgrounds have been popping up everywhere. And wow, playground design has changed significantly since the days of tire swings and metal jungle gyms. Play equipment is no longer one size fits all, and the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission staff has put into place safety guidelines for the proper use of public playgrounds.

In order to reduce the liability for your cooperative, establishing a program to ensure the safety of children on your playgrounds is recommended.

Choose equipment constructed of durable materials with finishes, treatments and preservatives that will not harm the users, as well as, material that will not absorb too much heat as burns are a big concern.

Conduct an annual detailed audit of the play equipment and play surface. During the inspection look for signs of damaged equipment, loose anchoring, the condition and placement of fasteners, rusted or corroded materials, potential entrapment locations such as cargo nets and other potentially dangerous conditions. The protective surface surrounding the equipment should be made of shock-absorbing material that meets the ASTM F1292 Standard Specification for Impact Attenuation of Surface Systems Under and Around Playground Equipment criteria. Note that these types of surfaces are not needed for equipment such as sandboxes and play houses if the child is to be sitting or standing at ground level. A certified playground inspector can perform an audit to determine if the playground is in general conformance with the current playground safety sub-codes in your state

The design of your playground is just as important as the materials used in constructing it. Equipment should be age-appropriate and separated by age group as much as possible. Use paths or other buffers to separate younger children from older, more active children.

Ensure a clean sight line for parents and caregivers to see their young charges as they move between activities. Organize equipment so there is less chance of someone accidentally being knocked down by another child using a swing or exiting a slide. And, in accordance to the Disabilities Act of 1990, Titles II and III, ensure even those with disabilities have easy access to equipment while encouraging integration within the play area. Also, post signs stating safety rules and the ages that are appropriate for the equipment and then enforce it.

You’ve probably also heard the mantra “Location. Location. Location.” It holds true with playgrounds as well. They should be located at areas that are easy to access. Be aware of nearby hazards such high-traffic roads, dangerous dropoffs and bodies of water. Fences are a great way to contain children in the area as long as the fence conforms to local building codes and/or ASTM F-2049. The area should also have a low-sloped elevation with drainage so there are not any water issues or the risk of protective surfaces washing away. And do not forget the sun. People all need Vitamin D, but when that hot sun is beating, temperatures can reach up to 160 degrees on play equipment. Strategically placing your playground in a shaded area will help.

In summary, develop a playground safety action plan even before installing a playground. The plan should include annual inspections and regular maintenance schedules for the structure and play area to ensure a safe environment for your youngest residents.

Kids learn by taking risks. Let’s eliminate the hazards.

This article was featured in CHQ fall 2020 issue. Click here to read the PDF newsletter.

John T. Stevens, vice president and general manager at Kipcon Inc., has more than 35 years of experience inspecting new construction and existing buildings, as well as playgrounds. He is intimately familiar with the codes and sub-codes on many topics.

Stacey Imber, marketing director at Kipcon Inc., has marketed engineering services for the past 10 years. In her former life as a pre-school teacher, she supervised many children on playgrounds.

Categorized as Safety

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