Playgrounds offer children an environment to play in as they learn, grow, and develop their sensory-motor skills. Playgrounds allow children to experience risks that test the boundaries of their abilities and help foster healthy development. A safe playground environment must be provided so that children may play without restriction.
Playground design and supervision are keys to reducing the incidence of playground injuries. A safe playground design allows children to jump, climb, balance and fall without risk of a serious or life-threatening injury. Constant supervision is required for children less than 5 years of age. Young children should be encouraged to follow safe playground behaviours such as sitting on swings and slides, going feet first down slides, not pushing, and waiting their turn.
Play & Child Development
A child grows and develops in many ways; physically, socially, intellectually, emotionally and creatively. Play is a vital part of how children learn and develop in all of these ways.
Play allows children to develop physically by improving balance, coordinating movements, and increasing physical endurance.
Play allows children to develop socially by creating peer relationships and learning how to cooperate.
Intellectually and creatively, children develop through play by imagining, exploring, problem solving, trial and mastery, and observation and discovery.
Providing a safe environment for children to play and develop in is of great importance to reduce the risk of severe and often life-altering injuries. Young children are developing their basic skills of balance and coordination. Children also are not able to understand dangers and risks. Adult supervision is a key component of ensuring a child’s safety.
Over a six year period in Saskatchewan, falls from playground equipment was the leading cause of injury hospitalization for children aged 5 to 9. Fractures, scrapes, cuts and bruises, head injuries, strains and sprains, burns and pinches are the most common injuries due to playground equipment. The most serious injuries on playgrounds are due to falls, entrapment, entanglement and collisions. The equipment most commonly associated with injuries includes monkey bars, slides, swings, play structures and see-saws.
Children’s behavior on playground equipment should not necessarily be regulated or changed. Play is a child’s opportunity to express themself and lead creative discovery to learn about themselves and their world. In order to protect children, safe environments should instead be developed. Safe environments include design of the playground, maintenance of the playground, age appropriate use of equipment, protective surfacing, and active adult supervision.
Three steps to playground safety and injury prevention are:
1. Check the Children
Before children use playground equipment ensure they do not have any clothing that may catch in playground equipment.
- Drawstrings should be removed from clothing and scarves should not be worn as they can catch on equipment and strangle a child. If children are playing on playground equipment in winter, have them wear a tubular neck warmer or tuck ends of a scarf into the jacket.
- Helmets should always be removed before playing on equipment. Helmets are larger than a child’s head and body and can get caught in equipment openings. The straps of the helmet may strangle the child.
- Do not allow a child to play with skipping ropes, ties or other ropes and cords on the playground as they can result in strangulation. Playgrounds that follow CSA guidelines may have ropes or cables built into the design that are safe.
2. Check the Playground
Parents, guardians, grandparents, teachers, playground supervisors, community members, and officials responsible for the playground or park can all help in ensuring the continued safety of a playground.
- Check equipment for parts that are loose, worn out or otherwise broken. Report these hazards to ensure they are repaired immediately.
- Check for handrails and guardrails to prevent falls.
- Check the protective surfacing. Sand, gravel, wood chips and shredded rubber should be 6 – 12 inches deep (15 – 30 cm). Grass and hard packed dirt are not appropriate surfacing for a playground.
- Check for glass or garbage and other debris in the play area.
- Children less than 5 years of age require constant and active supervision on play equipment.
- Older children still require supervision on play equipment as they often take more risks.
- Encourage safe play habits and teach children behaviour including: Wait your turn. No pushing. Feet first down the slide. Sit on swings and slides. Look before jumping.
- Ensure play equipment is age-appropriate. Playgrounds are designed for two age groups: 18 months to 5 years, and 5 years to 12 years. Playgrounds designed for 5 to 12 year old children have heights that are unsafe for younger children.
- Take a First Aid and CPR course so you will know what to do in case of an injury or emergency.
- In Canada, children between the ages of 5 and 9 suffer over 50% of playground injuries. (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2000)
- In Canada, 9.4% of all playground injuries were head injuries. (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2000)
- In Canada, playground injuries occur at school 36% of the time, at public parks 34.3% of the time and at homes 18.8% of the time. (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2000)
- Public Health Agency of Canada, Injury and Child Maltreatment Section, Health Surveillance and Epidemiology Division. Injuries associated with playground equipment. The Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRPP), Ages 0 – 14 years, 2000 [cited 2011]. Available from www.phac-aspc.gc.ca
PLAYGROUND SAFETY – FACT SHEET (DOWNLOAD ONLY)