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Your Guide to Plan an Indoor Playground

Playground equipment safety is important to us here at PlaygroundEquipment.com. That’s why each of our staff is required to become a Certified Playground Safety Inspector.  We can’t give safety advice on playground equipment unless we know what we’re talking about. Such certification is available at testing centers all over the United States.  We recommend park districts have at least one actively licensed staff member at all times.

For now, let this page serve as your own personal playground safety handbook.

Strategic Planning

Playground safety requires the coordination of multiple strategies to prevent and reduce injuries. It is impossible to stop injuries from occurring. Accidents will happen no matter how much planning is involved in a playground. However, solid planning and proper maintenance prevents and reduces serious injuries.  We recommend either compiling a playground equipment safety checklist or finding a premade one online.

Playground safety begins and ends with dedicated maintenance  in-house or by a third party.  Just a few things to regularly keep an eye out for include: loose bolts, missing end caps, broken glass, cracks in plastic, vandalism, hazardous debris, loose anchoring, displaced loose-fill surfacing, insect damage, split or rotting wood, and rusted metal.  If major repairs are required, bring in a local professional.  Safety is not the place to exercise frugality.

Make sure you keep vigilant records of every safety inspection and any resulting repairs or renovations.  This will not only keep you accountable, but may end up protecting you from legal liabilities in a worst case scenario.

Anticipating Hazards

Playgrounds come with a variety of hazards, but for every hazard, there is an equally viable precaution to maintain national playground safety standards.




Moving parts operating in close proximity present a hazard to the arms, limbs, and digits.

Safe Solution: Make sure any crush points with a closing force strong enough to do damage are inaccessible to small children.


Projections with outward-extending diameters present a hazard to children with loose strings, chains, and ropes.

Safe Solution: Prohibit the wearing of drawstrings or loose jewelry while using equipment; actively remove leashes, ropes, or any elongated materials left on or near playground structures. Projections such as bolts and screws should decrease in diameter away from the structure surface.



Narrow openings present a hazard to children when entered head- or feet-first; a slight change in orientation can make escape difficult and/or impossible.

Safe Solution: Do not let children wear bike helmets or other head-gear while using equipment.  Do not let children play unsupervised.  Perform regular inspections to identify potential entrapment points in your playground equipment.



Sudden changes in elevation, such as anchor devices, playground borders, and recycled tires present a hazard to younger, less-coordinated children.

Safe Solution: Anchoring devices, concrete footings, and horizontal base bars should be planted firmly below ground. Recycled tires must be carefully inspected for leftover metals, steel belts, and wires.


Extreme heat presents a hazard to children exposed to the elements for a prolonged period of time.

Safe Solution: Overhead shades offer children a cool place to play on hot summer days and lessen direct exposure to sunlight. Proper hydration and heat advisories must still be considered when deciding when and how long children should be allowed to play outside.

 

Fall Protection

Of all the safety precautions, playground fall zone requirements are most often overlooked. Fall height for a piece of playground equipment is defined by the CPSC as “the distance between the highest designated playing surface and the protective surface beneath it.”

When two or more playground structures are linked together, use zones come into play as well.  The use zone spans a minimum of 6 feet from the external perimeter of the structure. These zones should always remain clear of obstructions, especially that of other equipment.  Overlapping use zones are occasionally acceptable for stationary equipment (such as slides or ladders) as long as the fall height is no higher than 30 inches and the equipment itself remains 6 feet apart.  Any structures exceeding higher than 30 inches have an extended use zone of 9 feet.  Any slide stemming from a platform that exceeds a height of 6 feet, then the use zone in front of the slide will typically be higher than the standard 6 feet.

Compacted earth provides no fall protection, so synthetic is surfacing is required when developing a safe play area.  Surfaces can be divided into two categories: unitary and loose-fill.  Unitary surfaces include poured-in-place, concrete. artificial turf, and rubber tiling.  Loose-fill materials include, sand, pea fill, rubber mulch, and engineered wood fiber.  Loose-fill is not recommended for toddlers, as they may try to put materials in their mouths, and harder unitary materials such as concrete provide no fall protection and are not at all recommended for use with play structures

Materials and Manufacturing

Modern playgrounds are safely constructed and rarely encounter problems in regards to material quality or design. That being said, it is important to know what materials are going into your structures, how to gauge their quality, and how to maintain wear and tear.

Bare metals should never be used for platforms, slides, steps, or even beams, as direct sunlight heats metal to dangerously high levels.  Even painted metal surfaces should be facing away from direct sunlight in compliance with CPSC guidelines.

Wood must be treated to avoid rot and insects, but Creosote-treated wood and other coatings that contain pesticides should never be used.

All things considered, plastic playgrounds offer the best all-around result in minimizing risk and providing a low-maintenance alternative to the more classic wood or metal playsets.  Additionally, by utilizing recycled materials, you can build a playground that’s both fun and environmentally friendly.

Remember, playground safety rules will only go so far in keeping children safe.  It is your responsibility as the playground owner to develop and maintain a safe play space for anyone who intends to use it.  But we don’t want you to shoulder that burden entirely. If you need assistance designing a playground or have a question related to playground safety guidelines, contact live support at PlaygroundEquipment.com for an answer.