Playground Safety

Playgrounds and outdoor play equipment can provide your child with fun, fresh air and exercise, but they can also pose safety hazards. Faulty equipment, improper surfaces and careless behavior are just a few of the dangers that send more than 200,000 children in the United States each year to emergency rooms for playground-related injuries. More than 75 percent of the injuries occur on public playgrounds. Most of the incidents involve falls that result in injuries to the head and face.

"You can make the playground a safer place for your children by checking equipment for potential hazards and following some simple safety guidelines," says Jan Chytilo, Director of Health Education for the Broome County Health Department. Playground equipment is designed and manufactured for two age groups: 2 to 5 year olds and 5 to 12 year olds (school-age children).

Stickers, indicating the appropriate age group, should be displayed on all equipment built after 1994.

Responsible adults should always supervise their children while at the playground. Children cannot always gauge distances properly and aren't capable of foreseeing dangerous situations. Adult supervision helps ensure children play on age-appropriate equipment and also allows for quick first-aid action if an injury does occur.

Look for playground surfaces that consist of materials such as wood chips, mulch, sand, pea gravel or shredded rubber. Surface materials should be 12 inches deep and lightly packed to maximize their cushioning effect. Avoid playground surfaces made of concrete, asphalt and blacktop. Swings should be made of rubber or canvas, not wood or metal. Climbing areas should be no higher than five feet for preschool children and no higher than seven feet for school-age children.

All openings on equipment (e.g., rungs on a ladder) must measure either less than 3 inches or greater than nine inches so that the child's head or body won't become trapped.

If you are installing a home playground, follow the manufacturer's instructions, and inspect all equipment and surfaces regularly to identify any loose nuts and bolts, sharp edges, corrosion or deterioration. Whether your child plays on a home or public playground, take an inventory of equipment. Check for objects that stick out on equipment that could cut a child or cause clothing to become entangled, such as exposed S-hooks or protruding bolt ends. Children should not wear clothing with drawstrings or other strings attached that could get caught on equipment.

The following playground equipment should be avoided:

  • Animal figure swings
  • Glider swings that hold more than one child at a time
  • Swinging ropes that could fray, unravel or form a noose
  • Exercise rings and trapeze bars (as used in gymnastics)
  • Monkey bars or other equipment that include interior bars from which a child could fall from a height greater than 18 inches
  • Trampolines

Safe playground equipment and adult supervision go hand in hand. Teach your child how to be safe and act responsibly at the playground:

  • Never push or roughhouse while on playground equipment.
  • Always sit in a swing -- never stand or kneel.
  • When climbing slide ladders, take one step at a time, and hold on to the handrails.
  • Never climb up the slide itself to reach the top. Always slide down feet first -- never on the back or stomach.

Play is an important part of your physical and emotional development. If you keep these safety tips in mind, you're on your way to making sure your child's play is as safe as possible. For more information on playground safety, visit the National Program for Playground Safety website at