While playgrounds are a great place for children to play and be active, accidents do happen. To help ensure our play areas are safe environments for children, the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) has created a framework for parents, caregivers and other advocates of playground safety. It’s called the SAFE framework and it stands for (S) Supervision, (A) Appropriate Environments, (F) Fall Surfacing and (E) Equipment Maintenance.
The number one rule for safety on the playground is supervision. This is particularly important on playgrounds intended for a wider age range, for example, 2-12. Younger children who do yet understand how to properly use the playground equipment require adult supervision and guidance to use equipment as intended. Older children that test their limits and use playground equipment in dangerous ways need to be redirected to ensure safety for children of all ages and abilities.
Playground safety is dependent on the appropriateness of the environment for the child’s developmental level. Check that playground equipment is appropriate for the age of the children who are using it. Environmental factors impacting safety, such as the temperature of the equipment, must also be taken into consideration. Slides and other surfaces can get extremely hot to the touch, particularly between 10AM and 2PM, when sun exposure is at its peak. Overexposure to the sun can also be harmful for children. It is important to seek playgrounds that have shade structures or natural shade in place to avoid overexposure and overheating of equipment.
A significantly smaller amount of head injuries occur when protective, shock-absorbing surfacing is placed around and under playground equipment versus plain, hard surfacing. To ensure safety and compliance with safety standards, the critical height rating of the surfacing must be greater than or equal to the fall height of the tallest playground structure. The CPSC recommends the following surfacing for playgrounds:
- Rubber mats,
- Energy absorbing surfacing
- Engineered wood fiber
- Rubber mulch products
- Landscaping type materials (tested to standard).
Surfacing requires frequent maintenance to maintain safe depths for impact. This is particularly true with loose fill materials, like wood chips and mulch, which are more easily displaced over time.
Equipment hazards related to assembly, design and breakage are one of the most common causes of injury on the playground. According to the CPSC Handbook for Public Playground Safety, playground equipment should be inspected for
- Excessive wear,
- Deterioration, and
- Any potential hazards
on a regular basis, in accordance with a comprehensive maintenance program. Playgrounds that are used more frequently call for more frequent inspections and maintenance. The installation of shade structures has been shown to reduce the wear and tear of playground equipment from sun exposure overtime.
The easiest, most effective way to ensure your equipment and surfacing are in good, safe condition is with a professional playground safety inspection. Pro Playgrounds’ safety inspection services examine every part of your playground, down to the last nut and bolt, providing you with a detailed report of any deficiencies and a plan of action to cure them.
The SAFE framework for playground safety is designed to reduce injury on the playground. By following the framework – providing supervision, appropriate environments, fall surfacing and equipment maintenance – we can help ensure our parks, schools, churches and recreational areas are providing a safe place for kids to play.