Feature Article - October 2002
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Playing It Safe

A guide to playground diligence and maintenance

By Stacy St. Clair

3. Age Appropriate
Good playground design
provides several ways for
kids to get on and off the play
structure, creating a safe
flow of play.

Simply put, children on playgrounds need to act their age.

The majority of preschool-age children injured on playgrounds last year were on equipment designed for older children, according to the CPSC. In many cases, the railing and steps were too far apart for the children to reach. In other instances, the apparatus required strength or coordination not possessed by someone younger than five years of age.

"Every playground is not one size fits all," says Jack Kloubar, who does strategic marketing for a playground manufacturer. "You simply don't have big kids playing with little kids. There too much of difference, both in size and development."

The National Program for Playground Safety encourages parents to be aware of the dangers posed to young playground users. However, park and school officials also carry some of the burden.

First, facilities should make a concerted effort to provide segregated playground areas. The design is becoming an increasingly popular option, not only for safety reasons but also because it reduces the social problems created when children of varying ages try to play within the same area.

Preschool-age children, for example, need smaller steps and crawl spaces. Their hands require small grips and low railings on platforms. Designs should include bright colors and low tables for sand and water play. The more creative playgrounds have tricycle paths of different textures and manipulation materials such as sand and dirt.

School-age children, on the other hand, should be exposed to horizontal and overhead bars that would employ their developing upper-arm strength. Semi-enclosed structures such as forts and turrets encourage important socialization and fantasy play.


A breakdown of playground injuries in the United States, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Important tools include a
maintenance kit (above) and a
safety inspection panel (below),
which teach adults how to
identify hazards.
  • Each year, nearly 20 children die from playground-related injures. More than half of these deaths result from strangulation and about one-third result from falls.
  • In 1995, playground injuries to children younger than 15 cost $1.2 billion.
  • Each year 200,000 preschool and elementary school students in the United States visit hospital emergency rooms for treatment of injuries sustained on playground equipment. That means every two-and-a-half minutes, a child is injured on play equipment in America.
  • Roughly 35 percent of all playground injuries are severe. The Consumer Product Safety Commission defines severe as injuries involving fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, amputations and crushes.
  • Slightly less than 3 percent of all playground injuries require hospitalization.
  • Public playgrounds account for 76 percent of playground equipment-related injuries.
  • In schools, most injuries to grade school students occur on playgrounds.
  • Falls of playground equipment account for more than 60 percent of all playground-related injuries.