We’ve covered playground design quite a bit on this blog, with several entries touching on the history of playgrounds and the inspiration for some of the structures we see today. But we haven’t gone as in-depth on the topic of designing playgrounds that are safe for children to use. Today, we’ll take a break from our series on building your place of business to talk about important safety guidelines to follow when designing a playground for public use.
One of the most important features of a playground’s safety is the surface it’s built on. The ground should be soft enough to prevent injury if children fall from any point on the equipment, which means asphalt or concrete should never be used. Even grass and dirt can be quickly compacted and form much too hard a surface, so rubber mats and loose-filled material such as mulch, sand, shredded rubber, or wood chips are ideal.
The depth of this loose-fill material depends on how tall the playground structures are; in general, you should use 12 inches of surface material for every 8 feet of equipment. If the equipment exceeds 12 feet in height, however, no surface is considered safe. Other rules to consider are to extend the soft surface 6 feet out from the equipment, and to remove any natural obstacles like tree stumps or rocks from the playground site.
Playground Equipment Design and Spacing
When it comes to the equipment itself, design choices you make can greatly increase or decrease children’s risk of injury on your equipment. Always install guardrails or other barriers on elevated surfaces, even ramps. Any structures 3 feet tall or more should be spaced out by at least 9 feet, and movable structures like swings or seesaws should be kept entirely separate from the rest of the equipment. Swings should be limited to two per structure, and there should be at least 24 inches between them.
Also keep in mind the age group you’re designing for. Kids grow so much between the under 2, preschool, and school-age groups, so equipment should be sized appropriately. If you’re designing for a broad range of children, separate the areas meant for smaller children from the equipment designed for older kids, and clearly designate the areas to avoid any confusion for parents.
Playground Equipment to Avoid
While the above pieces of equipment can be dangerous or safe depending on their execution, some playground features are best left out altogether. These include swings shaped like horses or other animals, as well as swings that are designed to hold more than one child. Swings should be soft enough to not cause injury if they hit someone, and animal-shaped swings are too heavy and can cause serious injury if a child gets in their way. Also on the topic of swings, never use ropes that can fray or unravel, and avoid any ropes that can pose a strangulation hazard.
Other unsafe pieces of equipment include gymnastics equipment such as exercise rings and trapeze bars, and even monkey bars. It’s best to save those for gymnastics class. Last but not least, a trampoline on a playground is never a good idea no matter how fun it might seem. In a space used by so many children at once, someone is bound to get hurt on a trampoline.
Playground Equipment Maintenance
Just because the design is finished doesn’t mean the safety considerations should end. All equipment should be constantly monitored for potential hazards that come from wear and tear, like splintering wood, rusted metal, and loose or broken parts. The surface should also be maintained to make sure loose-fill materials don’t pack too tightly and stay evenly distributed around all equipment.
With some extra knowledge and attention to detail, you can ensure that children’s safety is the top priority in your playground design. But a good design means little if the execution is mediocre, so consider T.F Harper to build your next park or playground construction project. Safety is always at the forefront of what we do.