The play structures in your backyard may be smaller and shorter than those at the park or in the school playground, but your children can still be injured.
In Canada, there is a set of standards created by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) for safer playground design. The CSA standard does not apply to home playgrounds, but similar rules can be applied to designing safer play spaces at home.
The right equipment for your child’s age. Young children are often injured on equipment designed for older children. To help make sure that your home equipment is appropriate for the age of your children, build your play space in stages, rather than expecting your children to grow into the equipment. A good rule to follow: If a child is too small to reach and use equipment by himself, it is not designed for children his age.
Properly anchor purchased or homemade playground equipment. Home playground equipment is often lighter than public playground equipment so it needs to be restrained to prevent tip over or collapse. Check the manufacturer's guide for proper anchoring instructions. Anchors should be covered or hidden to avoid becoming a tripping hazard.
A deep, soft surface can protect against injuries from falls. A deep, soft surface will cushion falls and prevent many injuries. Provide a loose-fill surface, such as sand or wood chips, of 15 to 30 centimetres (six to 12 inches) deep under swings, climbers and slides to cushion falls. Higher equipment needs deeper surfacing.
The right height. Make sure the equipment is the right height for a child's age and size. Children under age five should be kept on equipment lower than 1.5 metres (five feet) high.
Prevent falls. Make sure equipment has guardrails or barriers to prevent falls. The CSA Standard recommends barriers on equipment higher than 75 cm (30 inches) that is used by preschoolers and barriers on equipment higher than 120 cm (four feet) for children five years and older. Try to keep higher equipment out of reach of children younger than five years; for example, remove the lowest rung of ladders to keep toddlers from climbing.
Swing seats. Swing seats should be made of soft material such as rubber or canvas. Many injuries occur when children are hit with a hard swing seat.
Space around equipment. The CSA Standard recommends that there be 1.8 metres (six feet) between any two pieces of play equipment, as well as between equipment and fencing or other structures. Swings and slides require even more space. Many backyards will not allow this much space, so you may need to adjust your design. Keep spacing in mind when you plan your yard and playground.
Remove or repair areas that can catch children's clothing. Children have died from strangulation when their clothing, or ropes they were playing with, became entangled in equipment. Pay close attention to areas where clothes may be caught, including: the top of slides, S-shaped hooks on swings, the joints of climbers and nearby fencing.
Inspect your backyard playground regularly (several times each month). Make repairs or remove broken equipment. Look for signs of wear, splintering or cracks. Check that bolts are tight and equipment is still well anchored. Check the depth of surfacing, and rake it to keep the surfacing loose and remove debris. Add more surfacing where necessary.
Supervise actively. For children younger than five years, stay close to children as they play. Be ready to catch them when they are on equipment. Keep them on equipment under 1.5 metres (five feet) high. And keep an eye on older children too; they like to take chances, but do not necessarily understand risks.
Are there other standards that would apply to backyard play structures?
For backyard and indoor settings, equipment manufacturers and installers often refer to standards published in the United States by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). ASTM has a voluntary standard for home playgrounds called Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Home Playground Equipment (ASTM/F1148-05).
Many ready-for-assembly play sets that are sold in Canada and the United States comply with ASTM safety standards. If you are buying outdoor playground equipment, look for a set that complies with the ASTM standard. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for safe installation.
Child Safety Link - A parent's guide to playground safety
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission - Safety tips for home playgrounds