ERIC Identifier: ED355206
Publication Date: 1993-03-00
Author: Hendricks, Charlotte M.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Teacher Education Washington DC.
Safer Playgrounds for Young Children. ERIC Digest.
Playgrounds can be exciting areas where children explore their environment
while developing motor and social skills. Yet each year, almost 200,000 children
are treated at hospital emergency rooms for injuries occurring on playgrounds
(Frost, 1990). About 60% of all playground equipment-related injuries result
from falls (CPSC, 1990). Other injuries result from collisions with moving
equipment or other children. Sharp edges, protruding hardware, and pinch points
also present hazards. Fortunately, most injuries are preventable. Preventable
injuries occur primarily due to four conditions: (1) equipment that is too tall;
(2) insufficiently resilient surface underneath equipment; (3) specific hazards
such as broken equipment; and, (4) lack of proper supervision. Proper
supervision is essential to safe play. When children are not challenged, they
find creative ways to use play equipment, such as going up the slide backwards
or climbing on the roof of the playhouse.
ARE THERE SAFETY STANDARDS FOR PLAYGROUNDS?
be located on property managed by schools, daycare programs, churches, city
parks, state parks, or private individuals. At this time, there are no required
standards regarding the manufacture or installation of equipment. Resilient
surfacing under equipment is not typically required. The U.S. Consumer Product
Safety Commission has established voluntary guidelines for equipment (CPSC,
1991) and surfacing (CPSC, 1990), but it is the responsibility of parents and
teachers to educate themselves about playground safety and demand compliance
with guidelines in playground development or renovation.
CHECKING FOR HAZARDS IN PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT
playground hazards have been associated with injuries or fatalities (Frost,
1990; Jambor & Palmer, 1990):
1. Excessive equipment height: Falls from tall equipment, such as climbers,
account for the greatest percentage of serious injury on playgrounds (Sacks, et
al., 1989). Most approved surfacing materials cannot safely absorb children's
falls from heights greater than 10 feet. The maximum height for climbing
equipment is 4 feet for young children and 5 feet for older children.
2. Inadequate fall zone coverage: There should be an effective resilient
surface both underneath and surrounding all equipment so that if a child falls
the surface will yield. This resilient "fall zone," in combination with
appropriate equipment height, can reduce the incidence and severity of injury.
The fall zone should be free of hard objects. Equipment support posts in this
area should be firmly anchored in concrete below ground level. The resilient
surface material should be placed over the ground surface.
3. Lack of guard rails: Any platform, deck, or walkway (including the top of
slides) more than 30 inches high should have a protective barrier.
4. Protrusions and sharp edges: Objects which stick out from the equipment,
such as nails, screws and bolts, pipe ends, and edges of broken equipment, can
cause cuts and bruises or entangle clothing and cause injury.
5. Head entrapment areas: Openings in which a child can put his head and get
stuck include spaces between posts, ladder rungs, or deck levels, or swinging
6. Hard swing seats: Swings with heavy wooden or metal seats can cause
serious injuries if a child passes too close or jumps from a moving swing. Heavy
animal-type swings are particularly dangerous as they create a "battering ram"
effect. Bumpers attached to such swings do not effectively reduce the risk of
7. Pinch and crush points: Many moving structures contain moving parts in
which a child can put a finger or hand. Look for pinch and crush points at the
center of merry-go-rounds, swinging gates, and see-saws.
8. Open "S" hooks: The "S" shaped hook used to attach the swing seat to the
chain should be completely closed. Otherwise, when the child swings high, the
seat can slip off the hook causing the child to fall.
WHAT IS A SAFE SURFACE UNDER PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT?
child falls onto a hard surface such as asphalt or concrete, the surface is
unyielding. A fall from an 8 foot high structure (the height of many slides)
onto concrete or asphalt is the equivalent of hitting a brick wall at 30 mph in
a car (Ward, 1987). Even grass is not an acceptable surface for equipment over 3
feet tall. If a child falls onto a resilient surface, such as sand or wood
mulch, the surface deforms upon impact. Concrete-surfaced inner city playgrounds
present a unique challenge. Some commercially prepared surfaces will adhere
directly to the hard surface. If this is too expensive, sand or other materials
can be installed after removing asphalt or concrete from the fall zone. The
following materials can provide a resilient surface for fall zones: [Refer to
the Handbook for Public Playground Safety (CPSC, 1991) to determine size of the
fall zone and to the Playground Surfacing Technical Information Guide (CPSC,
1990) to determine depth of material for specific pieces of equipment.]
1. Organic Mulch (pine bark nuggets, pine bark mulch, shredded hardwood
bark): This material depends on the air trapped within and between individual
particles for cushioning.
Advantages: Low cost; stays in place even on slopes; doesn't get inside
shoes; not easily thrown or put in ears or noses; debris can be easily spotted
and removed; may provide wheelchair accessibility.
Disadvantages: Decomposes rapidly and loses cushioning protection; grass will
grow over mulch and promote decomposition; absorbs moisture and may pack down or
freeze; subject to bacteria and insect infestation.
2. Wood chips from hardwood trees: This material depends on the air trapped
within and between individual particles for cushioning.
Advantages: Low-cost; not prone to insect infestation; doesn't get inside
shoes; may provide wheelchair accessibility.
Disadvantages: Will eventually decompose and lose cushioning protection;
chips may float out of place in heavy rain; chips may be thrown.
3. Coarse sand: Coarse sand or masonry sand is required. Fine sand will pack
when moist, and may freeze.
Advantages: Low-cost; will not pack; excellent play value.
Disadvantages: Requires frequent leveling to replace material pushed or blown
away; requires sifting to remove debris; gets in shoes and is tracked into
buildings; may require some weeding to prevent grass from growing (help prevent
this by sterilizing soil before adding sand); no wheelchair access.
4. Pea gravel: This is also called river-washed or tumbled stone. The
required type is rounded, smooth, and must be less than 3/8 inch in diameter.
Advantages: Moderate cost; will not pack; will not decompose; drains well;
provides additional play value for children over age five years.
Disadvantages: Requires frequent leveling to replace material pushed or blown
away; requires sifting to remove debris; inappropriate for children under age
five years since they may throw stones or put stones in their mouth, nose, or
ears; no wheelchair access.
5. Shredded Rubber Tires: Available commercially and is made from new tires
which have been scrubbed clean.
Advantages: Doesn't get inside shoes; will not decompose.
Disadvantages: Expensive; requires frequent leveling to replace material
pushed or blown away; may be thrown; particles may lodge in shoe tread and leave
black marks on interior floors; must check regularly for debris; no wheelchair
6. Commercially prepared surfaces: These are resilient materials designed
specifically for outdoor play areas. Gym mats and rubber mats do not provide
adequate protection against falls.
Advantages: Provides permanent effective cushioning against falls; can be
installed over permanent surfaces (concrete, packed earth) to resist vandalism
and provide smooth transition on uneven surfaces; debris can be easily spotted
and removed; provides wheelchair accessibility.
Disadvantages: Expensive; requires some cleaning to remove substances such as
spilled soft drinks or oils.
RENOVATING AN EXISTING PLAYGROUND
CPSC guidelines can be
used to inspect existing playground equipment and determine if modifications can
be made to reduce injury risk, such as installing fall zones under slides and
swings, exchanging rigid swing seats for softer ones, and closing "S" hooks.
Some equipment cannot be effectively repaired or modified. Other equipment is
simply inappropriate for children, such as tall slides, and should be disposed
A fall zone under a single slide can be installed for $350-$1,000, depending
on the material selected. Modifications to older equipment often cost more than
the purchase of new equipment. It is important to compare equipment for safety,
play value, and durability and to interview contractors to assure compliance
with safety standards and an understanding of the value of play.
The primary elements of playground safety are (1)
removing equipment that is too tall; (2) installing resilient surfacing under
all equipment; (3) removing hazards such as debris or broken equipment; and, (4)
supervising children's play. It is up to parents, teachers, and individuals in
the community to demand safer play areas and to provide proper supervision for
References identified with an EJ or ED number
have been abstracted and are in the ERIC data base. Journal articles (EJ) should
be available at most research libraries; documents (ED) are available in ERIC
microfiche collections at more than 700 locations. Documents can also be ordered
through the ERIC Document Reproduction Service: (800) 443-ERIC. For more
information contact the ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education, One Dupont
Circle, NW, Suite 610, Washington, DC 20036-1186; (202) 293-2450.
Consumer Product Safety Commission. (1991) Handbook for Public Playground
Safety. Washington, DC 20207: Author.
Consumer Product Safety Commission. (1990) Playground surfacing: Technical
information guide. Washington, DC 20207: Author.
Frost, J.L. (1990) Playground equipment catalogs: Can they be trusted? Texas
child care. Summer, pp. 3-12.
Jambor, T. & Palmer S.D. (1991) Playground safety manual. Birmingham, AL:
Injury Control and Research Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Sacks, J.J., Smith, J.D., Kaplan, K.M., Lambert, D.A., Sattin, R.W., &
Sikes, R.K. (1989) The Epidemiology of Injuries in Atlanta Day-Care Centers.
Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 262, No. 12, pp. 1641-1645.
Ward, A. (1987) Are playground injuries inevitable? The Physician and
Sportsmedicine, 15(4), 162-168.