Playground Safety

Families, Food and Fitness February 14, 2011 Print Friendly and PDF

Author: Margaret W. Miltenberger, M.B.A., B.S., 4-H and Family Extension Agent, West Virginia University, WVU Mineral County Extension Office

Children love to be outside. Outdoor time builds strong bodies and imaginative minds. Children who have daily outdoor time are better behaved and better able to focus on learning. They are more physically active and maintain a healthier weight.

children playing on playground equipment

It is important to keep playgrounds safe as well as fun. The fun can quickly change to tears and a trip to the emergency room if there is an accident. It is estimated that each year over 170,000 playground injuries occur. Approximately twenty children will die from playground related injuries.

Supervision. Supervising young children outdoors helps decrease the potential for accidents. It is tempting when you are outside to simply sit down and relax, or use the time to talk with friends and neighbors. But accidents can and do happen when you are distracted. Review safety rules with children and remember children don’t always put safety first. Stay focused on watching children as they play.

One of the best ways to keep safe is to teach children basic safety rules like how to use swings, slides, and other play equipment. But rules alone won’t keep a child safe. Remember children under age three do not understand rules. Older children may not remember or heed them.

When visiting a new playground take time to walk around and look for any safety hazards. Inspect a familiar playground for something that may have become broken or for unsafe foreign objects such as glass.

The Dirty Dozen Checklist

The National Playground Safety Institute (NPSI) has identified twelve of the leading causes of injury on playgrounds. The 'Dirty Dozen Checklist' can be used as a guide to inspect a playground.

  1. Improper Protective Surfacing. Hard surfaces such as concrete, blacktop, packed earth or grass are not acceptable under play equipment. Acceptable surfaces are hardwood fiber/mulch, sand, and pea gravel.
  2. Inadequate Fall Zone. A fall zone is under and around the playground equipment. A fall zone should be covered with protective surfacing material.
  3. Protrusion & Entanglement Hazards. A protrusion hazard is a component or piece of hardware.
  4. Entrapment in Openings. Enclosed openings on playground equipment must be checked for head entrapment hazards.
  5. Insufficient Equipment Spacing. Improper spacing between pieces of play equipment can cause overcrowding of a play area which may create hazards.
  6. Trip Hazards. Exposed concrete footings, abrupt changes in surface elevations, tree roots, tree stumps and rocks are all common trip hazards.
  7. Lack of Supervision. It is estimated that many playground injuries are directly related to lack of supervision in some way.
  8. Age-Inappropriate Activities. Children's developmental needs vary greatly from age two to age twelve. It is important that the equipment in the playground setting is appropriate for the age of the intended user.
  9. Lack of Maintenance. For playgrounds to remain in "safe” condition a program of systematic, preventive maintenance must be present.
  10. Pinch, Crush, Shearing, and Sharp Edge Hazards. Components in the play environment should be inspected to make sure there are no sharp edges or points that could cut skin.
  11. Platforms with No Guardrails. Elevated surfaces such as platforms, ramps, and bridgeways should have guardrails that would prevent accidental falls.
  12. Equipment Not Recommended for Public Playgrounds. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that heavy swings, multiple occupancy/glider type swings, free swinging ropes, swinging exercise rings and trapeze bars not be used for public playgrounds.

Additional Resources:

National Playground Safety Institute (NPSI)
The National Playground Safety Institute (NPSI) is sponsored by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). NPSI's mission is to promote children's rights to play in a safe environment and to nationally promote the importance of play in their development. The NPSI promotes the latest public playground industry standards and guidelines as the most desirable standard of care for public-use playgrounds. For a listing of playground related publications available through NRPA go to


Better Kid Care Program, 2002. Keeping Kids Safe on the Playground. Penn State Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture Sciences, College Station, PA.

Better Kid Care Program, 2002. The Ups and Downs of Outdoor Play, Satellite Workshop. Penn State Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture Sciences, College Station, PA

Louv, R., 2006. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, Paperback, Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, NC.

National Program for Playground Safety, 2006. National Playground Safety Week. University of Northern Iowa, School of HPELS, Cedar Falls, IA. Retrieved from

National Recreation and Park Association, 2010. Playground Safety. NRPA Ashburn, VA. Retrieved from

Frank, L.D., Saelens, B.E., Powell, K.E., Chapman, J.E., 2007. Stepping Towards Causation: Do Built Environments or Neighborhood and Travel Preferences Explain Physical Activity, Driving and Obesity?”Social Science and Medicine 65:1898-1914.

Sallis, J.F., Glanz, K, 2006. The Role of Built Environments in Physical Activity, Eating, and Obesity in Childhood. The Future of Children 16: 89-108.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.