Playground safety

Playground equipment

Four key areas to significantly reduce the risk of injury

1) Supervision

Play time for children is not break time for employees.

    • Outside play time is a great change of scenery for the teachers and the children
    • It should not be thought of as rest time for teachers
    • Children are more excited and active when outside which increases the chances of injury
    • If adult supervision decreases as child excitability increases…Accidents happen!
    • Each play area should have an adult supervisor
    • Playgrounds should not be set up with teacher sitting areas as this tends to minimize the importance of the need for supervision
    • Caregivers should watch for child behavior that tends to lead to injuries
      • Running
      • Not paying attention to nearby swings
      • Arguing over toys
      • Children pushing other children
      • Line battle
      • Etc.
    • Teacher supervisors must pay attention to keeping toddler children out of areas where older children are playing.  A common playground injury includes children running into other children when a child less experienced in walking cannot get out of the way of a running 3 or 4 year old.
    • Prior to heading to the playground a quick clothing check should take place.  Things to look for: necklaces, drawstrings, earrings, loose belts, and un-tied shoes.
    • Supervise child traffic at the end of the slides and in front of swing sets.
    • Enforce proper use of equipment, for example: children should not be allowed to climb up the sliding surface
    • Teachers should be stationed where they can see children in the crawl spaces and on the equipment.
    • There should not be any areas where children can easily get out of sight of teachers as this increases the chance for abuse allegations.

Key components of supervision:


    • An adult should enter the playground area before the children are allowed to enter the area.
    • A quick inspection for any obvious, out of the ordinary hazards should take place prior to children being allowed onto the playgrounds.

    Active monitoring:

    • “Active” requires that monitoring children on the playground is intentional.
    • Proper position: allows supervisor to see children from different angles, changing locations in the play area allows for closer supervision
    • Scanning: supervisors should look up, down, left, right, over, and under to see all areas of the play environment
    • Eye contact with children often can prevent unruly behavior that leads to injuries

2) Age appropriate equipment design

    Equipment for children aged 2 to 5 years should be separate from play equipment for children 5 to 12 years old

    • Signs in the play area will help reinforce teacher instruction on age appropriate play equipment
    • Resist the temptation to move advanced younger children to older group play areas
    • If possible, fences should separate age appropriate play areas from each other

    Platforms on equipment:

    • Are intended to allow children to change direction and get off the equipment if they want to
    • Should have appropriate guardrails
      • Minimum of 38” high for school age children 5 – 12
      • Minimum of 29” high for preschool age children 2 – 5

    Designs and supports:

    • Equipment design and supports for the equipment should prevent children from climbing on the outside of the structure

    Cautions about head entrapment

    • General rule of thumb is that all openings in guardrails, between ladder rungs, and similar openings should be less than 3.5” or more than 9”
    • Openings between those ranges can allow a child’s head to become trapped in the space

    Height + children + gravity = falls

    • Fall zones should be created due to the common event of children falling
    • Proper fall zones should not allow for less teacher supervision
    • Supervision helps prevent falls
    • Fall zone guidelines are established to prevent life threatening head injuries
    • It's a matter of physics.  The higher the fall and harder the surface, the worse the injury. ~ E. Henzy

    Equipment height recommendations

    • Preschool children should play on equipment no higher than 6 feet
    • School aged children (5 – 12) should play on equipment no higher than 8 feet

    Playground injury statistics

    • Each year more than 15 children die in playground related incidents
    • An estimated 205,850 playground related injuries result in hospital emergency room visits
    • Approximately 75.8% of playground injuries in 1999 occurred on playgrounds designed for public use
    • Fractures are most commonly reported injuries accounting for 39% of all injuries
    • Approximately 80% of reported fractures involve the wrist, lower arm, or elbow
    • Approximately 79% of injuries that occurred involved falling from playground equipment onto the ground below the equipment

    Material Types

    Loose fill material
    • Organic
      • Includes wood chips, bark mulch, and engineered wood fibers
      • Should be replaced over time
      • May allow for bugs and weed growth
      • Requires retaining structures
      • Should be shifted regularly to provide maximum protection from fall impacts
    • Inorganic
      • Includes sand, pea gravel, and shredded tires
      • Sand has problems when wet and with floor abrasions
      • Pea gravel has problems with curious children placing stones in various body cavities
      • Shredded tires are inconsistently processed in the past so problems with clothes stains arose

    Unitary material

    • Particles are bonded together through heating or cooling processes or with the use of a bonding agent or adhesive
    • These materials are costly to install and over time require costly maintenance

    Shock absorption characteristics

    • Depth of material needed depends on height of equipment
    • Recommendations include:
      • 9 to 12 inches of wood chips for equipment 7 to 8 feet high
      • 6 inches minimum of wood chips for equipment 6 feet high and lower

    Practical tips:

    • Use a straight ruler pushed into the material to measure depth
    • Feel the material move under your feet, if there is no “give” you need more surfacing
    • Consider 8” PVC connected to contain loose fill material

4) Equipment maintenance

    Inspect playground equipment for the following:

    • Broken or missing parts
    • Protruding bolts or fixtures
    • Dangerous gaps that can catch drawstrings or entrap body parts
    • Gaps between 3.5 inches and 9 inches as they create special hazards
    • Rust on metal parts
    • Splinters on wood pieces
    • Cracks and holes in plastic equipment

    Regular inspections

    • Designate people responsible for routine and more thorough inspections
    • Use checklists to mark areas inspected and take notes for future maintenance concerns
    • Keep files of inspections with dates which will provide for defense of some claims
Playground equipment

This document is intended for general information purposes only, and should not be construed as advice or opinions on any specific facts or circumstances. The content of this document is made available on an “as is” basis, without warranty of any kind. This document can’t be assumed to contain every acceptable safety and compliance procedures or that additional procedures might not be appropriate under the circumstances. Markel does not guarantee that this information is or can be relied on for compliance with any law or regulation, assurance against preventable losses, or freedom from legal liability. This publication is not intended to be legal, underwriting, or any other type of professional advice. Persons requiring advice should consult an independent adviser. Markel does not guarantee any particular outcome and makes no commitment to update any information herein, or remove any items that are no longer accurate or complete. Furthermore, Markel does not assume any liability to any person or organization for loss or damage caused by or resulting from any reliance placed on that content.

Markel® is a registered trademark of Markel Group Inc.

© 2023 Markel Service, Incorporated. All rights reserved.
Was this helpful?