Playground safety

Playground injuries can be serious, ranging from fractured bones to brain and spinal injuries that result largely from falls. Playground deaths are rare in Canada and are almost always caused by strangulation. These injuries can be prevented by using equipment that meets current safety standards, ensuring there is a deep, soft surface under the equipment and by encouraging active parental or caregiver supervision while children are at play.

What works to prevent playground injuries?

Improve playgrounds to meet current standards of the Canadian Standards Association and ensure regular inspection. The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) developed the nationally recognized standard for children’s play spaces and equipment. This standard specifies numerous design and maintenance criteria to reduce the risk and severity of injury, such as handrails and barriers, age-appropriate fall heights, and a deep, soft surface under equipment. Appropriate surfacing can reduce the severity of the injury compared to a fall on a harder surface.1, 2 One study found that school playgrounds upgraded to the CSA standard had a significant decrease in injuries compared to schools whose playground equipment had not been upgraded.3

Remove strangulation hazards at the playground. Although deaths at playgrounds are rare, children die from strangulation that can be caused by drawstrings, scarves or skipping ropes becoming entangled in playground equipment, usually at the top of slides. A child’s head can also become entrapped in an opening in playground equipment and in some instances this can occur when a child is wearing a bicycle helmet. The risk of strangulation can be reduced by using neck warmers instead of scarves, teaching children to keep skipping ropes and other cords away from equipment, ensuring that jackets and sweatshirts do not have drawstrings, and ensuring that children remove helmets before they play on the equipment.

Closely supervise children under five years of age. Research demonstrates that children under five years of age are less likely to take harmful risks when a parent is in close proximity at the playground. The fewer harmful risks children take, the less likely they are to be injured.4

Improve the safety of home playgrounds. Research demonstrates that backyard play equipment accounts for about 20 per cent of all playground injuries. Children between one and four years of age are more likely to sustain an injury at home than older children. Climbers, swings and slides are involved in the majority of all home playground injuries.5  Ensuring that there is a deep, soft surface underneath home playground equipment may help to prevent injuries.1

Additional links

Canadian playground standards - Children's play spaces and equipment
Canadian Paediatric Society - Playground position statement
Health Canada - Consumer product safety
Playground safety manual - Alberta Health Services Kids Safe

Endnotes

1 Laforest S, Robitaille Y, Dorval D. Surface characteristics, equipment height, and the occurence and severity of playground injuries. Inj Prev 2001;7:35-40.
2 Chalmers DJ, Marshall SW, Langley JD, Evans MJ, Brunton CR, Kelly AM, et al. Height and surfacing as risk factors for injury in falls from playground equipment: a case control study. Inj Prev 1996;2:98-104.
3 Howard AW, Macarthur C, Willan A, Rothman L, Moses-McKeag A, Macpherson AK. The effect of safer play equipment on playground injury rates among school children. Can Med Assoc J 2005;172(11):1443-6.
4 Morrongiello BA, Rennie H. Why do boys engage in more risk taking than girls? The role of attributions, beliefs, and risk appraisals. J Pediatr Psychol 1998;23(1):33-43.
5 Beaulne G. For the safety of Canadian children and youth: From injury data to preventive measures. Health Canada; 1997.