Design and Maintain Your Playground for Safety

Help prevent serious accidents with these tips

Playgrounds allow children to have fun, interact with each other, and challenge themselves to tackle new heights. Unfortunately, they also can lead to injuries. About 200,000 children go to U.S. emergency rooms each year after getting hurt on a playground, mostly because they fell from equipment to the ground. You can’t prevent every mishap, but you can reduce the risk of accidents at your church, school, or daycare with proper playground design and maintenance.

Use this simple checklist to do a quick inspection of your ministry's playground equipment. If you'd like a more comprehensive resource, download the Public Playground Safety Handbook. This 55-page guide from the Consumer Product Safety Commission offers the current U.S. standards on creating and maintaining a safe public playground.

Here are some best practices for playground design and maintenance:

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, appropriate mats and rubber flooring are needed.
  • Anchor play equipment firmly to the playground floor or ground.

Equipment Maintenance

  • Identify hazardous equipment. Remove play equipment associated with frequent injuries.
  • Clean playgrounds regularly. Be alert for hazards such as broken glass or sharp metal objects. Dirty equipment is an indication that you 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
    • improperly lubricated moving parts
    • splintered or cracked wood