Safe on the (Play)Ground

Follow these guidelines to keep playtime as carefree as possible.

Besides the fun and exercise that playgrounds provide for children, they also can be the scenes of serious accidents. You can’t prevent every mishap, but you can reduce the risk of accidents with proper playground design and equipment care.

Today, many new churches include colorful indoor playgrounds. They’re designed so kids will enjoy church so much they’ll beg their parents to return. Keeping an indoor playground in good repair is just as important as maintaining one outdoors. Use the following tips to help your clients plan and maintain a playground—indoors or out.

Playground Design

Use equipment designed for playgrounds. Don’t design your own equipment. Instead, buy from a manufacturer that adheres to strict industry standards. Your manufacturer should follow guidelines set by ASTM International, one of the largest developers of standards in the world. The guidelines are designed to reduce the likelihood of injuries on playgrounds.

Hire professional installers for new equipment. Experts discourage do-it-yourself installation because it increases the likelihood of mistakes and your ministry’s liability if a child is injured on the structure.

Use proper safety surfacing. Falls are the primary cause of playground injuries. The material underneath and around playground equipment should be soft and shock absorbing. Outdoors, this typically means sand, gravel, wood chips, or rubber mats. Indoors, cover areas under equipment uniformly with 9 to 12 inches of shock-absorbing surface material. Consult with a local playground equipment dealer for possible options.

Protect elevated play areas with continuous guardrails—20 inches above ground for preschoolers, 30 inches for school-age children. The space between handrails and ladder rungs should be no larger than 3.5 x 9 inches to prevent head entrapment.

Ensure swings are spaced at least 2 feet apart and 30 inches from the side poles to prevent crashes, and allow adequate spacing between equipment so children can move freely. This will reduce the likelihood of a child being hit by moving equipment or being struck by another child exiting a slide or monkey bars.

Be sure to anchor play equipment firmly to the playground floor or ground.

Lastly, separate playgrounds from roadways with a fence, wall, or other secure barrier.

Equipment Maintenance

Remove play equipment associated with frequent injuries, and clean playgrounds regularly. Be alert for hazards such as broken glass or sharp metal objects. Dirty equipment is an indication that your client may not have kept up with routine maintenance and repair. Walkways should be clear of trash and clutter to prevent tripping.

Regularly inspect play equipment. Here’s what you should watch for:

  • worn or missing parts
  • loose bolts
  • sharp edges or points
  • damaged “s” hooks
  • torn or frayed safety netting
  • torn or frayed rope equipment
  • loose sewing connections in cargo webbing
  • torn or frayed and exposed components that could trip, pinch, or crush someone

Also, be sure to lubricate moving parts properly, and repair or replace splintered or cracked wood.

Child Supervision

Teach all children to use equipment correctly and to watch for people in front of and behind them. Children younger than five should be accompanied by an adult while using playground equipment.

Keep an eye on children’s clothing. Loose ties, hooded sweatshirts, jewelry and shoelaces can get caught on equipment and cause serious harm. They are particularly notorious in strangulation injuries.

Make sure play remains under control. Don’t let children jump over railings or run near swings.

Be familiar with and comply with state regulations regarding proper adult-to-child ratios for supervision. The presence of two adults at all times is strongly recommended. Plan how you will respond to an injury, and make sure your plan allows for continued supervision while others are assisting the injured child.

Adapted from “Design and Maintain Safe Playgrounds,” by Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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