We all remember watching the clock as it slowly ticked towards that moment of excitement. The bell ringing, letting us know that the time of joy is upon us. Recess is here. Laughter fills the halls as everyone quickly makes their way outside and off to the playground. After a moment of letting our eyes adjust to the bright sunny weather, several students would b-line straight towards the monkey bars to literally hang out. Others would prefer to survey others from atop the geo-dome climber like kings looking at their kingdom. Some would simply get in line to go down the swirly slide. The true fun for many though was to bolt to the merry-go-round and try to spin it as fast as possible.
The playground was the hot spot of the school and one of the major events you remember for a long time after. Now, ask yourself a question. If you were to go to your old playground right now, what condition do you think it is in?
Unfortunately, many playgrounds will fall victim to the elements or constant wear and tear, leading to possibly unsafe facilities. Without proper maintenance, even a once safe playground can lead to injuries. Even disregarding injuries, a playground may no longer allow all children the opportunity to play. Let’s work together to make sure our playgrounds are safe and accessible to all children.
Is My Playground Safe?
Whether you are responsible over a playground space or even a concerned parent, you might be asking yourself this question now. You might even remember when you were a child playing. I can think of so many borderline dangerous activities all the kids would do at the playground.
According to the National Safety Council, injuries and hazards at playgrounds usually come from failing to routinely check the playground, strangulation hazards, too much sun, and/or improper knowledge of age-appropriate activities (NSC, 2021).
Each of these causes of injury can bear responsibility on the playground owner itself. The playground needs to be checked, strangulation hazards avoided, shaded areas included in the design, and proper signage indicating which ages should be utilizing the equipment. Let’s dive deeper on these causes and how to prevent them.
Checking your Playground
On a regular basis, you need to inspect your playground. A variety of hazards may be missed if you aren’t paying attention. Not only should you be watching for needed repairs to your equipment but tripping hazards or debris which can hurt those that use your playground.
When walking through an equipment inspection, think how you would want to play on it. Imagine going down the slide, hanging from the monkey bars, etc. Is there the possibility you could hurt yourself? You can also create a checklist for yourself, by asking questions like:
- Is there any missing or broken equipment?
- Are any panels, anchors, or barriers not secure?
- Could there be any loose or missing bolts/clamps?
- Are moving parts still moving or are they stuck?
- Have parts of the set begun to crack, corrode, or rust?
- Are animals and/or insects living in my equipment?
If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should consider repairs. Some repairs are simple, like re-greasing a moving piece or re-painting where there is paint chipping. Other times, these repairs can be larger or even warrant new playground equipment. With regard to pests, you may need to call a specialist to dispose of if a bee colony or implement measures to prevent animals and insects from living in your equipment.
When we say, “checking your playground,” we mean the grounds as well as the equipment. It’s easy to remember to check the equipment for hazards, but often the surrounding concrete, play surfaces, and surrounding areas are ignored.
Be mindful of concrete health, looking for cracks or debris build-up as well any exposed vegetation like stumps or tree roots. Cracks and pits in concrete can leave standing water or areas for trash to collect. Concrete sidewalks often have a lifecycle of 20-25 years but can wear down even faster when there is a lot of foot traffic from little, excited feet.
In order to keep kids safe from falls, playgrounds are required to have soft material under their equipment. You want to be sensitive that the surface is still soft, and no tripping hazards have arisen. Roots can lift parts of the playing surface leading to tripping hazards.
You might also want to consider what kind of play surface you are using. Mulch, rubber, faux grass, and other types of play surfaces exist with different price ranges and benefits. If you are concerned about splinters, then mulch may not be a great option, but it can be relatively inexpensive. Rubber can be pricier but last longer than mulch does. Rubber can lead to choking hazards depending if you utilize loose-fill or solid rubber surfaces. Faux grass can look aesthetically pleasing but is also expensive and often require rubber surfaces underneath for padding. Again, each has its benefits and drawbacks, so it largely depends on what your playground’s needs are.
Watch for children digging in loose-fill play surfaces, leaving bare patches for children to fall. If kids are jumping from swings (even when you tell them not to), they may be sliding on the playing surface, leaving piles of loose-fill and bare patches where they land.
Although obvious, checking for debris like broken glass or trash can be ignored. You want to make sure that dangerous materials aren’t lurking in the grass around your playground or even buried under the playing surface.
Protecting your Playground
In order to maintain your playground, it is critical to have a maintenance plan and utilize proactive measures to keep your grounds clean and safe for children. The National Program for Playground Safety (2021c; NPPS) suggests assigning a designated person to maintain play areas, checking for hazards. This person can be a school administrator, facility manager, custodian, headteacher, etc.
After installing your equipment, the manufacturer usually makes recommendations for frequency of care and inspections. By following these suggestions, you can prevent unwanted deterioration of your equipment and improve the life cycle of your playground. You can supplement your manufacturer’s suggestions by also considering the age, size, type, frequency of use, and prevalence of vandalism at your playground (NPPS, 2021c). Having a tailored plan and routine for your playground will ensure problems are addressed and allow inspections to be completed more efficiently.
If your playground is older, you can expect more maintenance problems.
If you have a lot of large equipment or equipment with moving parts, you’ll want to check these more frequently. Larger and motion-heavy equipment tends to utilize more nuts, bolts, and small pieces which you don’t want to come loose or being found and swallowed by children.
A playground that is used more frequently will have more wear and tear. Although you’ll want to check the most used areas, do not forget about other pieces of your playground. Also, be careful not to forget about the playground when you think the playground isn’t being used. Some children will continue to use the playground in winter or when school is in session, so you’ll want to make sure your playground is safe all year round.
Vandalism can also occur on your playground. While our minds often shoot to teenagers with cans of spray paint, vandalism can take other forms like placing sharp objects around the play area or purposefully destroying property. Even if it’s just sprayed paint graffiti, the visual of a vandalized playground will prevent many parents from allowing their children to play there (NPPS, 2021c).
Installing certain types of equipment or security around your playground can allow you to be proactive in preventing severe maintenance issues.
Posting proper signage around your playground for what is allowed on the equipment as well as advise what ages should be playing will alert parents to possible safety concerns while deterring some from using the facility improperly. To an older child, it may look humorous to sit on a freestanding rocker a preschooler would use but the equipment is not designed for them. With their weight and size, they could possibly break the equipment and hurt themselves in the process (NSC, 2021c).
Another way in which you can be proactive concerning your playground maintenance is by utilizing kick mats. These mats are placed anywhere a child may land on the loose-fill surfaces, such as at the end of slides or under swings. Kick mats keep loose material nearby/in the playground, prevent it from dispersing. It should be noted that there is no mandatory policy or guideline for testing these kick mats, but they can still help (NPPS, 2021b).
Protecting the Children
The whole reason we have playgrounds available are for the children, so we want to take every precaution that they are safe. Sure, maintaining the grounds and equipment is a major factor in this endeavor, but we should consider if there is more, we can do for the children to make their experience as fun and safe as possible.
Fun or a Hazard?
When picking out equipment, you may think a particular piece may be really fun for the children that use your playground. Although it is deemed to be safe, after wear and tear or depending on the clothing your children wear, it can be a hazard.
To prevent any undue hazards, you should become familiar with any ropes, straps, or chains on your equipment whether it swings, chain pull-up bars, or netting on various equipment. If possible, advise parents to dress their children appropriately to prevent choking hazards (NSC, 2021c). For example, hoodie strings or long, loose hair might get tangled on swing set chains or moving pieces of your playground.
Your equipment can be as safe as possible, but take it from an accident-prone kid, kids will find a way to get injured. Of playground injuries, 45% are severe and include fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, and amputations (Playgroundequipment.com, 2021).
On-site emergency medical kits can allow parents and adult supervision to cut a child’s clothing or hair free from being caught in the equipment. This emergency medical kit can also come in handy when a child suffers from an accident like a fall or something else unexpected.
Shading Against the Heat
As the sun rises, the equipment can become increasingly hot leading to a higher chance of burns to children. NPPS states that only 3% of the assessed playgrounds have full sun protection from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., which are peak exposure hours. 30% of the assessed had partial shade. 64% of playgrounds were fully exposed to the sun, offering no shade during peak hours (NPPS, 2021d). Thinking about your playground, how much shade can children use?
Utilizing equipment that has built-in shade is a great way to allow your equipment to provide adequate shade.
Natural shade can also be great for your playground and bring some natural elements into your space. Planting trees nearby gives children a space to withdraw if they are too hot. You want to ensure that the trees do not pose more risks to the play space but are near enough for children to make an easy retreat within sight of their adult supervision.
A nearby pavilion or shelter is a must for any playground. A feature like a pavilion is a space for shade and protection from sudden changes in weather (like rain).
Signage can also help educate parents on the hazards of too much sun. A sign can indicate how long play should be in the sun, symptoms of sun illnesses, and warn parents to utilize sunscreen.
A nearby water fountain can be just as crucial for children to escape the heat and stay hydrated.
Accessible for All Children – ADA Compliance
We want all children to be able to use playgrounds and make the memories to carry into adulthood. Sadly, we often neglect to think about those children which face mobility issues that can prevent them from play.
We need to be mindful of these children and ensure our playgrounds are ADA compliant. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination based on disability, ensuring equal access to facilities. In 2021, ADA Standards for Accessible Design were introduced to create standards for all public facilities to follow. These standards are enforceable under courts of law.
Any playground built or altered after March 15, 2012, must comply with these standards. This means that public outdoor play areas should give equal opportunity to all children over the age of 2.
Some required aspects to an accessible playground include paths from the buildings and/or parking lot to the playground and access points from the play area to the equipment which can be easily navigated by those with mobility issues or wheel-chair bound. Children should be able to access the play equipment using a ramp or be able to comfortably move from their mobility equipment onto the play space (NPPS, 2021a).
Consider also adding activities and equipment to your playground in which those with mobility concerns may be able to participate. Swings, merry-go-rounds, and sandbox equipment variants exist to allow those in wheelchairs to experience the same joy as other children. All kids should be able to have fun at your playground.
How IAP can help
IAP Government Services Group is very passionate about ensuring children have the best spaces to learn and play. This passion stems from our employees’ commitment to creating a better future through there and all children they come into contact with. Whether it be schools, Head Start facilities, parks, and/or recreation facilities, there are the areas where children learn and create memories the most. By providing them with opportunities to grow and gain positive experiences, we can create a better future not just for them, but for everyone.
We want to see that your facility is the best that it can be. We specialize and focus on commercial and public facilities, giving us a unique experience in handling larger, more complex problems. We want to ensure your and your guests’ comfort and satisfaction. If you are thinking about replacing your playground, constructing a new one, or looking for advice on how you can improve your space, we can help. Our team is full of experts who can guide you in the right direction.
If you are ready to get started, click the button below and fill out the form. We look forward to speaking with you!
National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) (2021a). “ADA and Playground Accessibility.” NPPS. https://www.playgroundsafety.org/topics/topic/ada-and-playground-accessibility
National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) (2021b). “Kickmats” NPPS. https://www.playgroundsafety.org/topics/topic/kickmats
National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) (2021c). “Maintenance Plans.” NPPS. https://www.playgroundsafety.org/topics/topic/maintenance-plans
National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) (2021d). “Sun Exposure.” NPPS. https://www.playgroundsafety.org/topics/topic/sun-exposure
National Security Council (NSC) (2021). “Staying Safe on Playgrounds.” NSC. https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/safety-topics/child-safety/playgrounds#:~:text=Playgrounds%20should%20be%20free%20of%20exposed%20concrete%20footings,,both%20in%20back%20and%20front%20of%20the%20swings.
Playgroundequipment.com (2021). “Playground Maintenance Guide.” Playgroundequipment.com. https://www.playgroundequipment.com/playground-maintenance-guide/#:~:text=Proper%20maintenance%20helps%20keep%20your%20playground%20and%20surrounding,and%20limit%20your%20liability%20if%20injury%20should%20occur