Playing it Safe on the Playground

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 200,000 children age 14 and younger seek emergency medical treatment due to injuries suffered on playgrounds every year in the United States. While many injuries are minor, others are so significant that they result in bone fractures, concussions and other head injuries, amputations, internal injuries and even death. Many children require extensive medical treatment for months, and even years after experiencing a playground accident, and some never fully recover.

When the initial shock of these types of injuries wears off, parents and caregivers are often left wondering how they could have been prevented in the first place, and if so, who should be held liable.

The CDC reports that approximately 75 percent of all non-fatal playground injuries occur on public playgrounds, with the majority happening at schools and daycare centers. An estimated 45 percent result in serious injuries and between 1990 and 2000, 147 playground injuries resulted in death. Strangulation was the leading cause of fatality, (56 percent of cases), followed by falls (20 percent). Most of the fatalities (70 percent) were a result of accidents that happened on privately owned playgrounds at someone’s home. Children between the ages of 5 and 9 are most likely to require emergency medical treatment after experiencing a playground accident.

Most Common Types of Playground Equipment Associated with Injuries

The four types of playground equipment that are most commonly associated with playground associated injuries include:

  1. Climbing Equipment – 23%
  2. Swings – 22%
  3. Slides – 17%
  4. Ladders – 9%

Preventing Injuries on the Playground

Fortunately, there are things that parents and caregivers can do to help ensure that their children have a safe playground experience.

  • Teach children playground etiquette. Explain that crowding, pushing or other horseplay while on or near equipment is not acceptable and is very unsafe. Teach children to watch out for the safety of others, be aware of moving parts (swings, carousels, and seesaws), and be courteous while climbing – especially on ladders and slides.
  • Inspect all equipment and the surrounding play area before allowing children to roam. Look for loose bolts, sharp objects, unstable supports/ stairs, missing or damaged guardrails, or anything that appears to be in disrepair. Watch for splintered wood, rusted metal or bent pipes. If playground equipment has plastic parts, be sure they are not cracked or worn. Remember that climbing nets should not be frayed or torn.
  • Also check out the type of surface underneath the equipment. Be sure it is a cushioned surface that is not riddled with litter or sharp objects. Concrete or asphalt is extremely dangerous when placed under or near playground equipment because there is no cushion if a child were to fall. Grass covered areas and sand are not much better. Rubber has, however, been deemed safe for playground equipment with standing heights of up to 12 ft. There is no safe surface for equipment over 12 ft.
  • Never allow children to wear clothing that is inappropriate for playground play. Watch for loose clothing, scarves, untied shoelaces, necklaces, and anything else that could pose a hazard while climbing or playing. Do not let children play on equipment while wearing a purse or backpack.
  • Be sure that children are using equipment that is appropriate for their age group. Younger children often become hurt while playing on equipment that is designed for older kids. Parents and caregivers should evaluate each child’s age, size and level of development or skill level to determine if equipment is appropriate.
  • Be sure that children (especially young children) are carefully supervised during their playground experience. When children are left unsupervised, they tend to take more changes and become more daring, which causes their risk for injury to skyrocket.

Beware of Unsafe Types of Equipment

According to, there are numerous types of playground equipment that have been deemed unsafe, but still linger in playgrounds across America. They are:

  • Swings made to look like animal figures
  • Swings designed to hold more than one child at a time
  • Ropes for swinging or climbing (they can fray, unravel, or cause entanglement/ strangulation)
  • Exercise rings (like those that are used in gymnastics) and trapeze bars
  • Wooden or metal swings

Additionally, plastic climbing equipment should never be used indoors in homes and daycare centers unless the play surface underneath is properly prepared. Regular carpet and padding do not provide a safe cushion for falls.

Who is Responsible For Preventing Playground Injuries?

Keeping kids safe on the playground is not just the responsibility of parents and caregivers, but the community as a whole. When hazards are noticed, they should be reported immediately and repairs/ changes should be made as soon as possible. When a child suffers serious injuries from a playground accident, the individual who is responsible for upkeep and supervision of the area can be held liable– even if the accident occurs on private property.