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Ask an Expert - Playground Equipment

We live next to a park with some old playground equipment. I'm wondering if it's safe for my kids to play on. What should I look for?

Thomas C. Barnhart, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, NDSU

This is a very good question for every parent to ask. A safety review of the playground area by an adult often can prevent
a trip to the hospital emergency room.

The most important part of the playground area to evaluate is the surface under the equipment. Almost eight of every 10
playground-related injuries are caused by falls. The surface should be at least 9 to 12 inches of loose material. Wood chips, pea gravel and sand are commonly used materials. However, sand and other materials can compact and lose
their energy-absorbing properties. Some playgrounds now use shredded rubber or poured soft surfaces.

The one important detail to be concerned about is the surface onto which children could fall from the equipment. The surface is designed to use shock-absorbing materials and prevent or minimize injury when a fall occurs, but children’s active play often can displace this portion of the surface area. The surface material should be redistributed to the fall areas regularly.

In addition to falls, parents should examine their child’s clothing for strings that can cause a child to become entangled on a bolt that may be too long or in a joint in the equipment.

Entrapments, impalement and tripping hazards also are potential hazards and should be reviewed. Generally, the safety of the design of the equipment improves if the equipment was purchased from and installed by a reputable contractor and has been updated.

Community residents should contact their park board or school if they are concerned about a public playground’s safety. Upgrading playground equipment and site always is a positive community activity and source of community
pride.

Here are some other ways to make playgrounds safer:

  • Inspect and replace the “S” hooks on chains used with swings when needed because they are subject to wear.
  • Have adults supervise play activities.
  • Separate age groups (toddler vs. school age) and use appropriate-sized equipment.
  • Avoid older slides without a transition platform at the top of the ladder.

Further information on playground safety can be found at: www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/fitness/fn1374color.pdf.

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