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This is often overlooked and unfortunately, what you don't know can and does hurt kids.
I took the liberty of taking information from this site - Home With the Kids - with some of my own edits.
The Best Location for Your Backyard Playground Equipment
Choosing the ideal location for your new playground equipment is the first step in ensuring backyard playground safety. Avoid sloping areas - level ground helps prevent playground equipment from tipping over. In addition, select an area that is away from potentially hazardous obstacles such as trees, low branches and wires, stumps, roots, large rocks, fences, bricks, and concrete. Plan for a safety zone of at least 6 feet around all backyard playground equipment; set aside even more space in front of and behind swings. Think ahead, also, to where you plan to position any metal or dark-colored slides or surfaces. Placing these out of direct sunlight can help prevent burns on hot, sunny days.
Protective Playground Surfaces
Once you have chosen the safest location for your backyard playground, the next step is to select an appropriate type of protective surface for under and around the equipment. Grass and dirt are the most common surfaces found under backyard playgrounds, but they are not adequate protection against injuries due to falls. Pea gravel, sand, wood chips, and shredded or recycled rubber mulch are some examples of protective playground surface options. Each protective surface option has its own specific minimum depth recommendations. More details on the topic of protective playground surfaces is covered in the next article in this series.
More info can be found on our Playset Surface Safety Page
Backyard Playground Construction Materials
Two of the most common materials used to construct playground equipment are metal and wood. Metal playground equipment should be galvanized, painted using a lead-free paint, or otherwise treated to prevent rusting. Wooden playground equipment should be treated to resist rotting and insects. Cedar and Redwood are two recommended wood types for wooden playground construction because they are naturally resistant to rotting and insect damage. ACQ pressure treated wood is also a good choice. Any wood chosen, though, should be intended for outdoor use. To increase backyard playground safety, splinters and sharp edges on wood and metal equipment should be removed or covered.
Safe Hardware for Playground Equipment
Use the bolts and screws recommended by the manufacturer of your playground equipment. Lock washers or self-locking nuts are essential to prevent bolts from loosening over time. Be sure to cap any exposed bolts - these can cause serious cuts or entangle loose clothing. In addition, close all S hooks so that openings are less than the thickness of a dime. Carabiners, like those used in mountain climbing and other adventure sports, can be used as an alternative to S hooks to attach the top of each swing to the swing beam hardware. Carabiners can be safer than S hooks because they are less likely to entangle loose clothing and pose a strangulation hazard. Carabiners also make for easy adjustment of swing height. All playground equipment hardware should be resistant to corrosion.
Prevent Tripping Hazards
Always follow manufacturer instructions for anchoring your playground equipment to the protective playground surface. Watch for exposed anchors, hooks, and bolts, which can cause tripping and other injuries. Bury anchors and all other ground-level hazards under the playground surface, or cover them with protective surfacing.
Playground Equipment Safety Guidelines
When constructing your backyard playground equipment or when inspecting equipment you plan to purchase, use the following guidelines for backyard playground equipment safety recommended by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC):
All rungs, steps, posts, and railings should be evenly spaced.
Openings between rungs, steps, posts, and railings should either be smaller than 3½ inches wide or larger than 9 inches so children cannot become stuck.
Guardrails or barriers are needed around any platform over 30 inches above the protective playground surface.
The slide entrance area and bed should not have any gaps or protrusions that could catch or entangle clothing.
V-shaped angles that open upward and are less than 55-degrees should be filled with a solid barrier (gusset) because these angles can trap a child's head or neck.
Once the playground equipment has been chosen, constructed, and installed, the following guidelines will further ensure the safety of children who enjoy the playground equipment:
Bike helmets should not be worn on play sets because they cannot pass through some spaces and children can become trapped. Strangulation by the helmet's chinstrap is a potential danger.
Ropes, jump ropes, clotheslines, or pet leashes should never be attached to playground equipment because they can be a strangulation hazard.
Children who use the backyard playground equipment should be supervised at all times by a parent or other responsible adult.
Maintaining Your Backyard Playground for Safety
Ensuring playground safety means maintaining the equipment over time. Bolts, nuts, caps, chains, cables, and other playground equipment should be checked periodically for wear and tear and replaced as needed. In addition, protective playground surfaces like pea gravel, mulch, and sand may need to be replenished as they become compressed. The topic of backyard playground maintenance is covered in more detail in the third article in this series.
CPSC Document #323. "Home Playground Safety Tips."
CPSC Document #324 "Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook." 2005.
CPSC Document #1005. "Playground Surfacing Materials."
CPSC Report. "Home Playground Equipment-Related Deaths and Injuries." July 2001.
CPSC Report. "Special Study: Injuries and Deaths Associated with Children's Playground Equipment." April 2001.
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