Playgrounds offer countless opportunities to grow, laugh and develop important skills. Remember spending sunny afternoons gleefully climbing, or swinging high into the sky alongside friends or classmates? Every child deserves the chance to create happy playground memories they can cherish for life. A safe, fun playground makes that possible.
Kids and parents should not have to fear for safety when it comes time to play. How can you ensure your playground is safe and ready to bring hours of joy? In this guide, we’ll point you in the right direction. We’ll cover everything you need to know from how to make a playground safe to playground equipment safety standards in Canada. Whether you’re building a playground for a school, park, daycare or just wondering how to inspect any playground equipment for safety, we’ve got you covered. Let’s get started!
Design 101: How to Design a Safe Playground
You can never underestimate the importance of playground safety. When kids enter a playground, they are often overwhelmed with excitement to explore colourful equipment and test their skills. If a playground is unsafe, children are limited in what they can do and enjoy, and they might get hurt. Thankfully, there are actions you can take to prevent playground injuries.
With the right knowledge and equipment, you can bring joy and play to the kids in your community without worrying if it is done right. Here are the most important factors to consider when it comes to designing a safe school or community playground:
1. Playground Safety Surfaces
According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, at least 29,000 children under the age of 15 are treated each year for playground-related injuries. Children between the ages of five and nine have the highest risk of injury. Falls are the number one cause of injuries seen in the emergency room, accounting for up to 75 percent of cases. Head injuries most commonly occur from swing falls.
Because falls can potentially lead to serious injuries, it’s particularly important to pay special attention to playground surfacing. With shock-absorbent surfacing, you can drastically reduce the risk of injury. Here are the best playground surfaces to lessen the chance of major injuries:
- Wood chips
- Pea gravel
- Shredded rubber
- Rubber mats
- Poured in place rubber surfacing
Playgrounds on hard surfaces with a fall height aren’t compliant. You should avoid the following surfaces beneath playground equipment:
- Packed dirt
- Sharp rocks
Choosing the right surfacing material is not enough to ensure proper safety, though. You also need to make sure surfacing is the appropriate depth for the equipment and extends far enough to soften a fall. Keep in mind the following factors to make your playground surfacing optimally safe:
- Surfaces should be free of water and there should be proper drainage systems in place.
- There should be no tripping hazards, like rocks or tree roots.
- Loose-fill surfaces like wood chips should be at least 30 centimetres deep for equipment up to 2.4 metres high.
- Playground surfacing should extend at least 1.8 metres beyond the equipment.
- The higher the equipment, the deeper the surfacing should be.
By reducing the height of playground equipment and increasing the depth of protective surfacing, you greatly boost your playground’s fall protection.
2. Spacing and Design
When choosing a location for installing your playground, the right spot can make a big difference when it comes to safety. Consider the following factors when selecting a location for your playground:
- The Route to the Playground: Check the routes children will take to get to the playground and look for potential hazards, such as tree roots and uneven surfaces. Remove unsafe barriers or consider finding a different location completely.
- Nearby Hazards: Consider hazards such as high-traffic areas, lakes, ponds or cliffs. Build a fence around the playground or install thick hedges to deter children from wandering off to hazardous areas. Make sure not to obstruct sightlines for supervisors.
- Sun Exposure: Consider sun exposure and ways to provide shade. If your play area isn’t naturally shaded, it can be beneficial to add shade structures throughout your playground. This can help keep playground equipment cooler to the touch, provide both kids and supervisors with protection from harmful UV rays while they spend time outdoors, and make for a more comfortable play environment overall.
- Drainage: Make sure the site has proper drainage so water will not pool under equipment. Additionally, avoid steep slopes to prevent loose-fill from washing away during heavy rain.
Playground layout is another important factor to keep in mind during the designing stage. For example, you do not want to install a swing set with another piece of equipment placed closely behind it. Proper spacing is important! Here are the top things to think about regarding layout:
- Accessibility: Make sure the playground is accessible and inclusive to children of abilities regarding space, surfacing and pathways.
- Age Group Separation: Keep play areas separate according to different age groups if the equipment isn’t appropriate for all ages, and designate areas with easy-to-read signs.
- Conflicting Activities: Keep highly active areas separate from quiet spots, and distribute high-use equipment throughout the playground instead of crowding popular equipment in one location.
- Sightlines: Make sure the playground design is free of visual barriers, so teachers, parents and other supervisors can keep an eye on children in all parts of the playground.
- Signage: Make sure children and adults can easily distinguish between age-appropriate play areas and include other important signs in the design like park rules and contact information.
A safe, modern playground should be designed to suit the needs of different age groups and keep children safe from the equipment they should not use. For example, toddlers require adult supervision at all times and should ideally have their own play area away from older children. Children under age five should only play on equipment under 1.5 metres. As a general rule, if a child can’t reach a piece of equipment on their own, then it is not safe for them.
Age-appropriate play areas help prevent injury to young children who have not developed the skills or strength for larger pieces of equipment, and they also keep older children from getting stuck or injured on small playground equipment. Consider the following types of age-appropriate play equipment, and see how they differ:
- Toddlers Under Age 2: Swings with bucket seats, climbing equipment under 81 centimetres high, small ramps, step ladders
- Children Ages 18 months to 5 years: Rotating tire swings, merry-go-rounds, slides, rung ladders
- Children Ages 5 to 12: Slides, swings, stairways, ladders, climbers
When you are deciding where to place your equipment, avoid cramming too much in one area and make sure there is plenty of space behind swings and at slide exits. To help you ensure the spacing is right, remember the following:
- Equipment more than 76 centimetres high should be spaced at least two metres apart.
- Swings and other moving equipment should have a separate area.
- Swings should be spaced at least 60 centimetres apart, and there should be 76 centimetres between the swing and the frame.
- Spaces and openings in equipment, like between ladder rungs, for example, should measure less than eight centimetres or greater than 22 centimetres, so children can’t get trapped in them.
3. Playground Signs
Playground signs can be useful in separating play areas or warning children about potential dangers, like equipment that may have become hot from sitting in the sun. Use signs to point both kids and adults to age-appropriate play areas.
Place a sign at the entrance that displays playground rules, park hours and playground owner contact information. All signs can be customized to fit the playground theme or colour scheme, to keep the mood cheerful throughout.
You can also include fun educational signs to enhance the experience. Help children learn interesting facts about bugs, trees or native plants with thoughtfully placed signs. Stimulating, playful signs can be incorporated into any playground style in order to provide a learning experience for kids while they play.
According to guidelines established in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Canada (MUTCDC), signs should be placed to warn motorists of a school or playground. They advise placing a speed limit sign with the school zone or playground zone sign to remind drivers to slow down and stay alert.
4. Maintenance and Inspection
Most playgrounds undergo a lot of use, which can leads to wear and tear. Even the toughest playground equipment should be inspected regularly because you want to ensure that weather and use haven’t caused any damage. Additionally, sometimes children attempt to alter playground equipment to suit their fantastical adventures, and equipment modification is usually not a good thing.
To keep your playground as safe as possible, develop a regular maintenance plan. Strive to keep an organized record of installation, inspection, maintenance and repair for each piece of playground equipment. Any replacement or repair should follow manufacturer instructions and safety standards.
Although you can ask a certified inspector to investigate your playground, you can also perform regular inspections on your own. Use this playground safety checklist to periodically self-inspect your playground and look for the following:
- Any cracked, rusted, warped, bent or broken components
- Splintering wood
- Metal that could become too hot in the sun
- Cracked toys that could pinch
- Any loose hardware
- Any protruding hardware or sharp edges that could cut or get caught on clothing
- Loose swing chains
- Vandalism or hazardous debris such as trash or broken glass
- Sharp objects or other hazards that could be hidden in sand areas
- Cracked, damaged or displaced surfacing
- Frozen surfacing
- Tripping hazards such as rocks or tree roots
- Slipping hazards such as loose sand on walkways
- Pooling water
- Beehives or insect damage
- Broken equipment anchors
- Lack of lubrication on moving components
- Poor drainage areas
- Chipping or peeling paint on equipment or toys
- Thorny plants within reach
- Improperly working latches on any gates
- Modifications made by playground users
Common playground hazards to look for in other playgrounds as well as your own include:
- Hard surfaces beneath equipment
- Surfacing that does not extend beyond 1.8 metres in all directions
- Bolts, hooks or other protruding hardware
- Head entrapment hazards
- Congested play areas
- Trip hazards
- Lack of supervision
- Lack of separate age-appropriate play areas
- Sharp edges
- Lack of guardrails on platforms
- Unsafe equipment
If you notice any signs that your playground is unsafe, you should immediately close the playground until equipment is repaired or replaced.
CSA Playground Standards
The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) developed standards about safe materials, installation, equipment, surfacing, layout, maintenance and other information to help keep children safe in playgrounds. However, playground equipment safety standards are voluntary — playground safety is not a law. Nevertheless, some jurisdictions have passed regulations to ensure playground management complies with CSA standards. To make sure your playground is safe and CSA-compliant, ask an inspector certified by the Canadian Playground Safety Institute (CPSI) to visit your playground.
The CSA safety guide is available to purchase online. Here are some CSA standards according to the 2020 edition, to give you an idea of what to expect:
- Playground surfacing must extend no less than 1.8 metres on all sides of play structures.
- All playground equipment with a fall height should have safety surfacing.
- Elevated platforms must have guardrails or protective barriers.
- The playground owner shall maintain the playground surface to make sure it can handle a fall as intended.
- Periodic testing of installed equipment shall be performed.
- There should be no sharp points, edges or protruding hardware.
- Strings or other pieces of clothing should not get caught on swings, slides or other types of equipment.
- Areas should be labelled for age-appropriateness.
- There should be a sign posted with playground owner contact information.
- There should be extra space around slides and swings.
- Sandboxes should be located off to the side of the playground and have a minimum sand depth of two centimetres.
You can find CSA-approved playground equipment at PlayPower Canada, including:
- Activity panels
Although CSA standards may not be required, you can reduce playground injuries by following CSA guidelines.
Build a Safe Playground With PlayPower Canada
Children, parents and teachers all benefit from outdoor playtime in the sun and fresh air. Everyone is happier after time spent at the playground, especially if the playground is safe. PlayPower Canada makes playground safety simple, so you can spend less time worrying about following regulations and more time enjoying the sight of little faces lighting up.
Since 1947, PlayPower Canada has been the premier source for fun, innovative, safety-compliant and high-quality playground equipment in Canada. We carry the most trusted brands that customers love, from Little Tikes Commercial to innovative Miracle Recreation equipment.
Concerned about your budget? We are here to help provide solutions for all of our customers. We’ll help you find a playground that suits your budget, space and playground dreams. If we don’t have what you need, we offer custom design solutions so that your ideal playground is within your reach.
Whether you are looking for safe playground equipment for schools, the community or home, look no further than PlayPower Canada — a name you can trust and people who care. Contact us to learn more or request a quote on playground equipment today.