Back to School Safety, Part IV: Playground Safety

Noble McIntyre on September 3, 2014

Photo Source

We’ve been talking the past few weeks about lots of safety issues related to the new school year. In case you missed them, check out parts I, II and III of our four-part series on back to school safety. Today, we’re talking playgrounds. While we all probably have fond memories of jungle gyms and tire swings when we were kids, more than 200,000 kids are treated in emergency rooms each year for playground-related injuries. Most of these are preventable, with a combination of ensuring that the equipment is safe, and having proper supervision.

Safety of Playground Design and Equipment

The key to minimizing playground injuries is having a surface that is soft enough and thick enough to soften the impact if a child falls. Playgrounds should not be built on concrete, asphalt, blacktop, grass, soil or packed Earth. Grass, soil and packed Earth are unsafe because weather and wear can make them be less cushioned in case of a fall.

The best surfaces are wood chips (without chromated copper arsenate), mulch, sand, pea gravel, shredded rubber or rubber-like materials. The surface of the playground should not have standing water, debris, broken glass or twisted metal.

In playgrounds at parks or schools that house children that are a range of ages, there should be areas for younger children that are separate from the older kids’ play areas. Regardless, playground equipment should be regularly checked to make sure that it is in good working order. Equipment should not be broken, cracking, splintering or rusted. The surface materials should be regularly maintained to cover all ground and fall zones around the equipment, and there should not be any objects like hardware, hooks or unfinished edges that could stick out and cut a child or tangle clothing. If you think that your child’s school or public playground has unsafe equipment or conditions, tell your local authorities.

Especially for younger children, though, there are a few lessons in “playground etiquette” that you can teach before school begins that will also help keep everyone safe:

  • Have fun, but never push or roughhouse on jungle gyms, slides, swings or other equipment.
  • Always slide feet-first, don’t stand on swings or climb outside guardrails.
  • If the child is going to jump off equipment, teach him to be sure that there is no one beneath him, and teach him to land on both feet with knees slightly bent.
  • Wet equipment can be slippery, so be sure that all surfaces are dry before using it.
  • If it’s hot outside, playground equipment can cause contact burns. Before to check all surfaces before using hot equipment.
  • Do not wear clothes with drawstrings or cords, and avoid jewelry or accessories like necklaces, loose hair bows and handbags that could get caught on equipment and cause strangulation.
  • Children should sit in swings, not stand or kneel. They should also hold on tightly with both hands and stop the swing completely before getting off.
  • Most swings are designed to safely hold only one child at a time; children must be taught to remain a safe distance from other kids on swings and not to walk too closely in front of or behind a moving swing.
  • Do not climb the slide to get to the top; use the ladder. Kids should always slide sitting up and feet-first, never head-first or on their stomachs. Encourage kids to remember to check that the bottom of the slide is clear before sliding; they should then move away from the bottom of the slide when they land so that it’s clear for the next child.
  • When using climbing equipment like rock walls, arches or vertical or horizontal ladders, children need to watch for other kids climbing in the opposite direction. They should not “race” or reach for bars that are too far ahead.

Adult Supervision at the Playground

Although having safe and well-maintained equipment is essential for any playground, there is no substitute for proper adult supervision. The adult watching your child must make sure that children are behaving safely and should know how to deal with the situation in the event that a child does get hurt. Especially with younger children, kids can’t always gauge distances and they aren’t always able to foresee a dangerous situation. As well, older children sometimes like to test their physical limits, so it’s always important for there to be plenty of adults available and paying attention.

There’s lots of evidence that outdoor free play and recess is a crucial part of every child’s development. Your kids should be having fun on the playground, but a few simple precautions will hopefully go a long way in keeping them safe.

Playground by phalinn, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  phalinn

References:, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

Noble McIntyre

Noble McIntyre is the senior partner and owner of McIntyre Law who focuses primarily on drug litigation and catastrophic injury cases. He is currently representing clients injured by the drugs Paxil, Levaquin and testosterone therapy drugs and by clients affected by oil field injuries. His goal has and continues to be to work diligently on behalf of his clients to achieve the highest and best result for his clients’ injuries while maintaining professionalism and abiding by all ethical standards of his profession. Read more about Noble McIntyre.

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