Tag Archives: Playground Safety

Backyard Playground Safety: Inspection and Maintenance Over Time

Ensuring the safety of backyard swing sets and playgrounds is a major concern when we plan and construct a backyard playground to be used by the children in our lives.  Just as important, though, is the attention we pay to playground safety over many years.  Playground safety should continue to be a priority over the life of the playground equipment’s use.  Regular inspection and upkeep of the home playground area is crucial for ensuring the safety of children over years of active play.  By following the guidelines for inspection and maintenance presented in this post, you can increase the safety of your playground equipment, protective playground surface, and the surrounding area, and lessen the possibility of injuries.

Over extended periods of time, the safety of backyard playground equipment can be challenged by harsh weather conditions and active play.  Frequent inspections of the playground equipment and the condition of each part can reduce the possibility that injuries will occur.  The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that specific guidelines be followed to ensure the safety of your backyard playground equipment:

  • Test for any loose nuts and bolts twice a month and tighten as needed.
  • Replace hardware that is damaged or worn or that has protrusions or projections.
  • Oil moving metal parts as directed by the manufacturer.
  • Check to be sure that protective caps and plugs that cover bolt ends and ends of tubing are in place and tight.  Inspect twice a month and replace as needed.
  • Check the condition of the equipment, looking for signs of wear and tear such as broken or missing parts, bent pipes or tubing, and splintering or decaying wooden surfaces.
  • Inspect and test swing seats, ropes, chains, and cables monthly for deterioration and replace as needed.
  • Clean, sand, and repaint rusted areas with a non-lead-based paint.

In addition, sandboxes should be checked often for insects, debris, and dangers such as sharp rocks, sticks, or broken glass.  Sandboxes should be covered when not in use to keep animals from contaminating the sand.

The amount of upkeep needed for protective playground surfaces will depend on the type of surface you have chosen. Loose-fill surface materials like wood chips, shredded bark mulch, pea gravel, play sand, and recycled rubber mulch require regular raking, and sometimes tilling, to remove rubbish, loosen compacted areas, and level the surface.  In addition, maintaining the proper depth of your protective playground surface means adding more material to your existing surface once or twice each year.

Synthetic protective playground surfaces like rubber tiles, rubber mats, and poured-in-place surfaces usually require less upkeep than loose-fill surface materials, but they should be checked often.  Look for gouges, burns, or loosened areas, and have them fixed as needed.  Also, sand, rocks, leaves, or other loose material should be swept from the protective surface routinely to lessen the possibility of slipping hazards.

The space surrounding your home playset can become just as dangerous as the equipment and the protective playground surface if not adequately maintained.  Keep the area free of litter and any objects that may cause injuries, such as fallen tree limbs, sharp sticks, large rocks, and yard tools.  Additionally, adequate drainage should be maintained to prevent water from collecting on and around the protective playground surface.  Areas which are frequently moist or wet can be potential slipping hazards as well as hotbeds of fungus, mold, and other bacteria.

To sum up, make a point to set aside a few minutes each week to inspect your home playground equipment, protective surface, and surrounding area for possible safety issues. Doing so can greatly improve safety conditions for the children who enjoy your backyard playground.  Keeping kids safe is the overriding objective, and no measure is too great to assure their well being during their explorative and developmental play.   Backyard playground safety is too important to allow any avoidable risk to go undetected.


  • U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Document 323.  “Home Playground Safety Tips.”
  • U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Document 324.  “Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook.”  2005.

Backyard Playground Safety: Safety on the Swing Set

Considering safety when planning and constructing new backyard playground equipment is crucial, but just as important is considering safety while the kids are engaged in active play on that well-designed and well-constructed equipment.  Kids just want to have fun, but sometimes that fun can have some hidden dangers about which parents and caregivers should be aware.

Did you know that bike helmets, when worn on playground equipment, can pose a serious danger to kids?  Bike helmets cannot pass through some spaces and children can easily become trapped.   Additionally, strangulation by the helmet’s chinstrap is a potential danger.

Did you know that ropes, jump ropes, clothes lines, or pet leashes should never be attached to playground equipment because they can be a strangulation hazard?  Even the drawstring found in hooded sweatshirts can cause strangulation if a child on a swing set becomes entangled by it.

While a responsible parent or other adult should always be around to supervise kids who play on the backyard swing set, it’s also important to empower kids by sharing this information with them.  Parents should help kids understand that seemingly harmless items like bike helmets, jump ropes, pet leashes, etc. should never make their way onto any swing set or other playground equipment.  No gory details necessary…just let them know it’s not safe, so it’s not ok.

In my next and last post on backyard playground safety, I’ll tackle another often neglected area of swing set safety — equipment upkeep and maintenance over time.

Backyard Playground Safety: Tips For Constructing Your New Swing Set

Once you have planned the safest location for your new backyard swing set equipment and have selected the most suitable protective surface material for underneath and around the equipment, you are ready to construct.  Of course, safety considerations during swing set construction are just as important as during the planning stage.   By following the guidelines below as you construct your backyard playground equipment, you will help to ensure the safety of the children who will soon be enjoying what you have built for them.

Use the proper hardware for your playground equipment:

  • Use the bolts and screws recommended by the manufacturer of your playground equipment. Lock washers or self-locking nuts are critical for preventing bolts from loosening over time. 
  • Cap any exposed bolts. Exposed bolts can cause serious cuts or entangle loose clothing. 
  • Close all S hooks so that openings are less than the thickness of a dime. 
  • All playground equipment hardware should be able to resist corrosion.

Prevent potential 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.

Here are some additional installation guidelines 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 3 inches wide or larger than 9 inches so children cannot become stuck.
  • Guard rails or barriers are needed around any platform over 30 inches above the protective playground surface.
  • The entrance area for the slide 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.

Having the best time possible is a child’s only concern when it comes to backyard playground equipment. With proper planning and implementation of the playground safety guidelines presented in this post and in the two previous posts, you can feel confident that you will have created a play area that is fun and safe.

In my next post on backyard swing set safety, I’ll focus on some important safety tips that parents and caregivers should keep in mind while children are at play on the backyard swing set.

Backyard Playground Safety: How to Choose a Protective Surface Material

When it comes to safety, one of the most neglected features of backyard swing sets and playgrounds is the ground itself.  While something like 80% of public playgrounds have some type of shock-absorbing protective surfacing under playground equipment, only 9% of home backyard playgrounds do, according to a 2001 playground injury study performed by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). The study found that, of the approximately 50,000 injuries per year associated with home backyard playground equipment, 69% of the injuries were because of falls to a non-protective surface underneath the equipment.

The most frequently used backyard playground surface options are grass and dirt, but neither surface adequately protects children against serious injury due to falls, even falls that occur from 30 inches or less above the ground. Fractures of the arms and hands, and lacerations and contusions of the head and face are the most often reported injuries that result from a child falling from playground equipment to a non-protective playground surface such as grass or dirt, as reported by the CPSC.

The good news is that there are number of protective playground surface options for the backyard playground that will meet the need for playground safety. As you might expect, playground surface options range in cost from affordable to expensive, and each option has its own list advantages and disadvantages. The most affordable materials are loose-fill materials such as wood chips, play sand, pea gravel, and recycled rubber mulch.  Understanding some of the positive and negative qualities of loose-fill playground surface materials should give you a better idea of the most appropriate playground surface for your backyard playground.

In general, loose-fill playground surface materials are the most common choices for backyard playgrounds because they are affordable and easy to obtain from a local garden center or home improvement warehouse. Recycled rubber mulch can also be found in a variety of colors and sizes through internet suppliers.

Common Characteristics of Loose-Fill Playground Surface Materials


  • A retaining barrier of some kind is required to prevent the surface materials from becoming displaced due to active play or weather conditions.
  • Loose-fill materials should never be installed on top of hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt.
  • Good drainage beneath the protective surface is necessary.


  • The initial cost of installing a loose-fill playground surface under your backyard playground equipment is generally low because the materials are easy to find and are relatively inexpensive.


  • Over time, loose-fill materials can become compressed, thus decreasing their protective abilities.
    Recommended depths can be compromised when active play or windy conditions displace the loose-fill materials.
  • Debris such as broken glass, nails, and other sharp objects which can cause injury can be easily hidden by loose-fill materials.
  • Continuous maintenance is required to maintain proper depth and to remove debris. Maintenance can include raking, sifting, grading, and leveling.
  • Periodic renewal or replacement of loose-fill materials is necessary, which can be time consuming and costly. The exception to this is recycled rubber mulches — see below for more detail.

Recycled Rubber Mulch

The loose-fill surface material with the most overall advantages and fewest disadvantages is recycled rubber mulch.


  • Recycled rubber mulch does not generally need to be replaced or renewed each year. Many manufacturers claim that rubber mulch can last approximately 50 years without needing to be replaced. Check with recycled rubber mulch suppliers for any guarantees or warranties that may be available.
  • Rubber mulch tends to be cleaner and less likely than other loose-fill materials to produce dirty clothing, hands, and shoes during active play.
  • Does not cause scrapes, scratches, or splinters from falls.
  • Animals and insects are not attracted to rubber mulch.
  • Mold and fungus growth is not a problem.


  • Recycled rubber mulch may need to be raked periodically to maintain proper depths in high traffic areas.
  • Colors on recycled rubber mulch may fade over a period of time.

No protective playground surface of any type can prevent all injuries. All the same, installing a protective playground surface as the foundation for your backyard playground equipment is crucial for increasing playground safety. The most suitable playground surface for your needs is up to you, but whatever choice you make will be a significant step toward protecting the children who use your playground equipment from serious injuries due to falls to the surface.

In my next post on backyard playground safety, I will offer some important guidelines to follow as you construct and install your new backyard swing set.

Backyard Playground Safety: Planning For a Safe Playground

It’s not too early to start thinking about providing your kids with a Springtime surprise — a backyard swing set or playground.  In fact, it’s best to start early because there are a number of considerations to take into account when planning for a safe backyard playground experience.

Location is key! Be sure to select the best spot for your new playground set:

  • Avoid ground that slopes or is uneven. Level ground helps prevent a playground set from tipping.
  • Select a spot that is away from potentially dangerous 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 playground equipment; set aside even more space in front of and behind swings.
  • Plan the location and position of any metal or dark-colored slides or surfaces. Placing these out of direct sunlight can help prevent burns on hot, sunny days.

Falls will happen! Don’t forget to choose a proper protective surface for under and around the playground equipment:

  • Grass and dirt are not adequate protection from injuries due to falls.
  • Pea gravel, sand, wood chips, and shredded or recycled rubber mulch are some recommended protective playground surface options. (Further details about the variety of protective playground surfaces will be discussed in future postings.)

In my next post on the topic of backyard playground safety, I’ll go into more detail about the variety of protective safety surface materials available.  You should then be able to make a more informed decision regarding the best choice of surface material to use under and around your playground equipment.