Playground concerns

Concerns about a playground?

Learn about playground safety.

Visit our section on playground safety tips. It describes the importance of good surfacing under play equipment and some important factors in the design of play equipment. It also gives safety tips for active supervision while children play. Parents and caregivers can help with playground safety by checking for damaged equipment, dangerous objects or other hazards every time they visit a playground.

Find out who owns or operates the playground.

The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) playground standard requires that public playgrounds have a sign posted providing the name of the organization that operates the playground and a phone number or other contact information. If there is no sign at the playground, see our list below for suggestions on who to contact.

Contact the owner or operator of the playground or the person in charge of maintenance.

Describe your specific concern, and ask when the playground was last inspected. Describe what piece of equipment or area of the playground you feel is not safe. The CSA Standard requires three types of maintenance checks: daily or weekly visual inspections, monthly detailed inspections and seasonal scheduled maintenance. It also requires that playground operators periodically test the protective surfacing under the playground (CSA does not specify how often this test should be performed; once a year may be considered reasonable).

Follow up on your concern to see that action is taken to assess the safety of your community playground and, if needed, to make it safer.

Here are a few steps to help you get action on your concern:

  • Call or e-mail the person who is in charge of the playground. Explain that your goal is to make sure the playground is safe.
  • Describe your specific concern and ask how the problem will be addressed. Ask the person you communicate with how long this action will probably take.
  • If you speak on the phone, ask for a mailing  or e-mail address so you can follow up in writing. Write a letter or e-mail that confirms your conversation and outlines the actions that you were told would take place. Include photos when appropriate. Send the original letter or e-mail to the playground contact you spoke with and keep a copy for your records.
  • Keep a list of your calls or e-mails. If calling, note the date, time and name of the person you spoke with.
  • Visit the playground or follow up with another call or e-mail, to see if the problem was fixed.
  • Celebrate your success! When your safety concern is addressed, send a thank-you letter or e-mail to the person in charge and to other people you contacted about the problem.
  • If you are not satisfied with the results, call or write the contact person again. Be persistent about the need to ensure that the playground does not pose an unreasonable risk of injury to children who play there.
  • If you still are not satisfied, you may need to get others involved by calling the contact's supervisor. Or you may need to find out if there is another office (e.g., your local public health office) that would have a mandate to ensure children's safety in this setting. You may need to contact municipal politicians or inform a local newspaper, as publicity sometimes helps lead to action.

Who to contact

Many playgrounds across Canada are owned and operated by either municipalities or school boards. Here is a list of common playground owners and operators and suggested contacts.

Playground location Suggested contact
Public park Municipal parks or recreation director
First nation Recreation director, school principal or band council
School grounds School principal, school board staff or trustee
Day care/child care Supervisor or director
Apartment building Superintendent
Condominium or townhouse complex Management corporation
Shopping centre Director or general manager
Community centre Director or general manager
Restaurant General manager or owner

What are some examples of serious playground hazards that should be fixed immediately?

Hazards which could kill or seriously hurt a child should be fixed immediately.

Here are some examples:

Strangulation hazards. A strangulation hazard is a point where clothing drawstrings or loose clothing could catch and become entangled, causing a child to be strangled. The tops of slides and firemen's poles and any piece of moving equipment (swings, merry-go-rounds) should be carefully inspected for places where a drawstring, scarf, or other piece of clothing near the neck could get caught. Since the early 1980s almost all child deaths on playgrounds were the result of strangulation.

Inadequate surfacing under high equipment. Safe surfacing helps to protect children in case of a fall. Falls on to hard ground can cause serious injuries, such as broken bones, head injuries and injuries to internal organs. Proper surfacing material is fairly inexpensive, but crucial to keeping a playground safe. Most injuries that happen on playgrounds are the result of falls.

As of 2003, the CSA requires that all types of playground surfacing be "crash tested" to ensure its shock-absorbing ability each year. Loose fill surfacing should be installed to a depth of 15 to 30 centimetres (six to 12 inches).

Head and neck entrapment hazards. These are spaces in playground equipment which are large enough for a small child's body to slip through, but small enough to trap the child's head. Because toddlers and preschoolers have large heads relative to their body size, this is a serious hazard. Some places to check include the space between steps, gaps in horizontal railings, and spaces between platforms of different heights. Safe openings are either smaller than nine centimetres (3.5 inches) or larger than 22.5 centimetres (nine inches). Unsafe openings can often be corrected for the short term with fairly simple modifications (e.g., closing in the back of steps.)