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Playground Safety

When you are building a playground for your children, nothing is more important than their safety. Follow these playground safety tips to make sure your swing set can be enjoyed for a long time.

Playing Ground
Before that playground equipment goes up, you need to lay down the proper surface upon which your swing sets will stand. However, not any old surface will do. The type of material you use will directly affect the level of safety your playground has. Since kids will fall down and off playground swings and slides, it is necessary to install a surface that has shock absorbing capabilities. Obviously, concrete and asphalt are not ideal playground turf.

While soil, firmly packed dirt and grass may seem like a good surface for play structures, they actually are not. Although they do have some ability to absorb shocks, this ability can change according to the weather, which means they are not consistently reliable.

Economically, the best types of playground surfaces for home playground equipment are loose fill materials. These include:

  • Pea size gravel
  • Screened sand
  • Rubber playground mulch (i.e. shredded tires)
  • Wood chips

These materials should not be installed over concrete or asphalt. Generally, the deeper the base of the loose fill material, the more absorbent it will be of shocks. To decide how deep your base should be, though, you will need to figure out the critical height of your playground.

Of Critical Importance
The critical height of your playground refers to the maximum height from which a child can fall without causing a life threatening head injury. The value of this should be at least as high as the highest accessible piece of playground equipment.

Every material has a different depth for a different critical height. Depending on your playground's critical height and the type of material you are using, the depth of your base will vary:

  • Wood Chips: For a critical height of 7 feet, you will need a base 6 inches deep; 9 inches deep for a critical height of 10 feet and 12 inches deep for a critical height of 11 feet
  • Fine Sand: For a critical height of 5 feet, your base will need to be between 6 and 9 inches deep. For a critical height of 9 feet, your base will need to be at least 12 inches
  • Fine Gravel: For a critical height of 6 feet, you will need a base 6 inches deep; 9 inches for a critical height of 7 feet and 12 inches for a critical height of 10 feet
  • Medium Gravel: For a critical height of 5 feet, you will need a base between 6 and 9 inches deep. For a critical height of 6 feet, you will need a base 12-inches deep

With the exception of wood chips, the material's shock absorbing ability will decrease as it gets compressed through use.


Remember the Fall Zone
Any playground surface you put in should not only cover the area directly underneath the swingsets, but also the fall zone. This refers to the area where a child can safely fall. The fall zone should be free of objects. On stationary climbing equipment, the fall zone should extend at least six feet in every direction. On outdoor swing sets, the fall zone should be twice the height of the pivot of the swing seats both in front and in back of the swing.

Keeping it Safe
Once you've put up your kids' playground, help keep it safe by regularly inspecting the play structure. Things you'll want to look for include:

  • Worn equipment
  • Protruding or sharp equipment or hardware
  • On wooden swing sets or plastic playground equipment, look for cracks
  • On wooden playground equipment, look for splinters and decaying wood
  • Any damaged pieces
  • Any deteriorating or corroding equipment, especially on metal swing sets

To help avoid choking hazards, refrain from using open or 'S' hooks. These can easily catch on children's clothing and possibly strangle them.

For more tips on keeping your children safe both on the playground and off, read Street Smarts.

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