Don't fall down on detecting outdoor camp activity and play hazards

Staff that supervises field games and playground activities should be well versed on the rules of the game and any hazards associated with the field of play. Before starting, rules need to be clearly articulated to participants. Once rules are established, stick to them. If changes must be made, take time to review the changes with everyone involved.

Counselors responsible for supervising these activities need to routinely inspect for hazards on the field and playground. Staff should patrol fields and trails to identify fallen branches and other hazards. Take action immediately, and document what was found and how it was corrected.

To support playground safety initiatives, The Dirty Dozen Checklist published by the National Recreation and Park Association ( identifies the top twelve (12) playground safety hazards. These hazards include:

  1. Lack of supervision. Supervision of a playground environment directly relates to the overall safety of the environment. It is estimated that over 40 percent of all playground injuries are related directly to lack of supervision.
  2. Improper protective surfacing. The surface or ground under and around the playground equipment should be soft enough to cushion a fall. Most loose-fil surfacing must be maintained at a depth of 12-inches and be free of standing water and debris.
  3. Inadequate use zone. A use zone is the area under and around playground equipment where a child might fall. A use zone should be covered with protective surfacing material and extend a minimum of six-feet in all directions from the edge of stationary play equipment, such as climbers and chin-up bars.
  4. Protrusion and entanglement hazards. A protrusion hazard is a component or piece of hardware that is capable of impaling or cutting a child if a child should fall against the hazard. Some protrusions are also capable of catching strings or items of clothing worn around the child’s neck. This type of entanglement is especially hazardous because it might result in strangulation.
  5. Entrapment is openings. Enclosed openings on playground equipment must be checked for head entrapment hazards. Generally, there should be no openings on playground equipment that measure between 3.5 to 9 inches.
  6. Insufficient equipment spacing. Improper spacing between pieces of play equipment can cause overcrowding of a play area, resulting in unsafe conditions. Each item of equipment should have a use zone around it where protective surfacing material is applied.
  7. Trip hazards. Trip hazards are created by play structure components or objects on the playground.
  8. Age-inappropriate activities. It is important to make sure that the equipment in the playground setting is appropriate for the age of the intended user. Check the manufacturer’s manual for guidelines.
  9. Lack of maintenance. In order for playgrounds to remain in safe condition, a program of systematic, preventative maintenance must be followed. Keep records of all maintenance completed, including the date and person performing the work.
  10. Crush, shearing, and sharp edge hazards. Components in the play environment should be inspected to make sure there are no sharp edges or points that could penetrate skin. Moving components such as suspension bridges, track rides, merry-go-rounds, seesaws, and swings should be checked to ensure there are no moving parts or mechanisms that might crush a child’s finger.
  11. Platforms with no guardrails. Elevated surfaces such as platforms, ramps, and bridges should have guardrails or barriers to help prevent accidental falls.
  12. Equipment not recommended for public playgrounds. (And yes, a camp playground is considered public.) Accidents associated with the following types of equipment have resulted in the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommending that they not be used on public playgrounds:
    • Heavy swings, such as animal figure swings
    • Multiple occupancy/glider swings
    • Free swinging ropes that may fray or form a loop
    • Swinging exercise rings and trapeze bars


National Recreation and Park Association. The Dirty Dozen – 12 Playground Hazards. Ashburn, VA.
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