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Playground Safety 101

According to the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS), from 2001 to 2008, an average of 218,851 preschool and elementary children received emergency department care for injuries that occurred on playground equipment. Of those, 51 percent of the injuries happened on public playground equipment.

While not every playground injury is preventable, many could be lessened or avoided. As a leader of your church and church facilities, you can make the outdoor playground equipment of your church a safer place for children by providing suitable surface material, safe equipment and adequate supervision.

Site Layout and Surfaces

When choosing a location to build a playground, it’s important to consider several factors. The playground should be in a location that will eliminate any obstacles or hazards that children could encounter when traveling to and from the site. Using fences or landscape hedges to protect the entire playground, as well as to create boundaries between different play areas is recommended. Surface areas should be as safe as possible, especially because nearly 70 percent of injuries result from a fall. Asphalt or concrete, hard packed dirt or grass and turf are unsuitable and not recommended for playground areas. These surfaces have poor shock-absorbing properties and can contribute to injuries. Rather, surround equipment with at least nine to 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand or pea gravel. Mats or synthetic surfacing made of rubber or rubber-like materials also can be used.

Equipment Selection and Maintenance

Before you purchase equipment, consider which age groups will be playing at your site, and buy appropriate equipment based on the following age groups: six to 23 months, two years to five years and five years to 12 years. Playground areas should be separated by age group and signs should be installed indicating the appropriate age. Avoid installing dangerous types of equipment, which might include spring-loaded equipment, metal slides and trampolines. Create a maintenance schedule to ensure all equipment is inspected regularly for sharp points, loose or missing parts, insecure anchors and other hazards.

It also is important to inspect the playground area regularly. Check for broken glass or other dangerous debris. Remove tripping hazards, and repair areas with inadequate drainage or low spots that would allow standing water.

Provide Supervision

Without adequate supervision, even playgrounds that are designed, installed and maintained properly can still be dangerous. Whether supervisors are paid employees, volunteers or parents, they all should understand the basics of playground safety. They should be trained on proper use of equipment and the hazards associated with each piece. The more training and knowledge supervisors have on things such as First Aid and emergency response, the better they will be at reducing the number and severity of injuries.

Protecting Children

Playgrounds create a place for fun and recreation for the children of your congregation. Following these recommendations will help keep kids stay safe while they enjoy all that your playground has to offer.

For more information, view the Playground Safety Fact Sheet on SafeChurch and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission publication, “Public Playground Safety Handbook.”

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