Playground and schools are synonymous with one another. Where you find a school, you will find a playground. Unfortunately, many of these playgrounds are poorly designed and even more poorly maintained. This can result in injuries, as well as problems for school administrators. By paying attention to playground safety best practices, schools can avoid any potential problems they may otherwise face.
The Need for Better Playground Safety
Playgrounds are supposed to be all fun, but it doesn’t always work out this way. Just run a search for playgrounds on your favorite news site, and you’ll find an array of stories regarding injuries and lawsuits.
Consider the 2013 case of 15-year-old Carl Thompson who sat down on a swing set at a local park and had a 42-pound metal crossbar break off and smash into his skull. Just last year, Thompson and his family were awarded a $20 million verdict.
In a more recent case, a mom put her one-year-old child in her lap and slid down a playground slide. Unfortunately, the child’s foot got caught on the side of the slide and snapped her tibia and fibula. No lawsuit was filed, but the situation – which emergency room doctors say is quite common – highlights just how serious playground risks can be.
For schools, playground safety is no light matter. An inadequately designed playground can increase the risk of injury for students. From broken bones and sprains to burns and traumatic brain injuries, a poorly maintained playground can cause significant harm – the fallout of which can include tarnished reputations, complicated lawsuits, and costly settlements.
3 Helpful Safety Tips
Playgrounds don’t have to be dangerous. When schools take the time to construct them appropriately and regularly maintain them, serious injuries are few and far between. Here are some of the specific steps school administrators can take:
1. Choose the Right Design
When it comes to building a playground, schools are advised to pay close attention to the surface and design/spacing.
“A proper playground surface is one of the most important factors in reducing injuries – and the severity of injuries – that occur when kids fall from equipment,” KidsHealth explains. “The surface under the playground equipment should be soft enough and thick enough to soften the impact of a child’s fall.”
Materials like asphalt, concrete, and blacktop are unacceptable. Likewise, weather and wear make grass and soil unsafe choices. Mulch, sand, wood chips, and shredded rubber are preferred.
In terms of design and spacing, playground equipment should be organized into different age groups. Depending on the target demographic, there should be sections for infants and toddlers, two- to five-year-olds, and five- to 12-year-olds. Guardrails and protecting barriers are needed on elevated surfaces. Equipment like seesaws and swings should be located in their own areas.
2. Establish Clear Rules
Every playground should have clear and discernable rules. School administrators should work together to create guidelines that mitigate the risk of injury and simultaneously limit liability.
Once rules are established, playground signage should be clearly posted on the property. This includes playground rules, hot surface warnings, instructions for equipment, and custom rules specific to the facility.
3. Invest in Regular Maintenance
While a well-constructed playground will remain relatively safe over the years, regular monitoring and maintenance may be necessary to keep it in its optimal condition.
Keep an eye out for potentially dangerous issues like improperly secured parts or sharp edges. Inspecting for normal wear and tear is a must.
“Long-term exposure to the elements can cause damage to the equipment, and all equipment deteriorates over time,” AAA State of Play explains. “Follow the specific inspection protocol for your playground’s equipment. You should evaluate equipment and make maintenance decisions based on the type of structure and materials used.”
Gone are the days of metal slides baking in the sun and splintering seesaws that send kids flying into the air. Today’s playgrounds are equally as fun as the playgrounds of the past, yet a whole lot safer.
In order to keep your students safe, parents happy, and school reputation intact, make sure you’re prioritizing safety and maintaining your playground on an ongoing basis. It’s a small investment for major peace of mind.