Keeping Our Playgrounds Safe

August 2017


Students engage in a variety of activities during play time, lunch periods, recess hours and physical education classes at school playgrounds. The activities that occur at these playgrounds contribute to the overall academic success as well as the general wellbeing of students.1 Playgrounds also provide opportunities for students to interact and build good relationships with their peers outside of the classroom. Further, playgrounds provide ways for students to engage in physical activities which contribute to the physical, social, mental or cognitive development of children. Research shows that, playgrounds serve as places for learning and development and as sources of well-being and health promotion.2, 3, 4 Playgrounds, therefore, offer many opportunities for students which have wide reaching effects that extend beyond the physical boundaries of the playgrounds.

Although playgrounds offer many benefits to children, studies have also shown that, playgrounds exceed all other locations for injuries that occur at schools for all age groups.

Although playgrounds offer many benefits to children, studies have also shown that, playgrounds exceed all other locations for injuries that occur at schools for all age groups.5 In the United States, every year, more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger are treated in emergency departments for playground related injuries.6 Specifically, children between the ages of 5 and 9 tend to have increased rates of emergency department visits related to playground injuries as compared to other age groups. Over 20,000 of these injured children are treated for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), which includes concussion.7 Additionally, approximately 75 percent of injuries associated with playground equipment happen on public playgrounds and most of these injuries happen specifically at recreational places or at schools.8, 9 Given that playground activities could lead to injuries of students, it is important for educators, school administrators, school staff and all stakeholders to play a vital role in keeping our playgrounds safe in order to maximize the benefits to students.

Strategies for Keeping Playgrounds Safe

Keeping playgrounds safe requires comprehensive and effective injury prevention strategies that address factors such as environment, individual behaviors, products, social norms, legislation and policy.

Keeping playgrounds safe requires comprehensive and effective injury prevention strategies that address factors such as environment, individual behaviors, products, social norms, legislation and policy.10 Studies by Salminere and colleagues (2014) examined the effects of environmental factors on school injuries and showed that improvement of the physical environments of schools can contribute to the creation of safe schools.10 The researchers also recommended periodic safety assessments and good quality maintenance as means to keeping playgrounds and schools safe. Moreover, findings from the study suggested that repairing or attending to hazards as soon as they are identified plays a key role in school safety.

A study by Hudson and Thompson (2004) identified four interactive risk factors concerning injuries to children on playgrounds. These risk factors constitute the S.A.F.E model for injury prevention on playgrounds.11 Also, the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) recommends a National Action Plan for the prevention of playground injuries that is based on the S.A.F.E model/framework.12 These four factors include:

  • supervision
  • age-appropriate design of equipment
  • fall-surfacing
  • equipment and surfacing maintenance

The researchers suggested that supervisors should be present at playgrounds to monitor, prevent injuries and also help prevent unsafe student behaviors from occurring. Furthermore, providing supervisors on playgrounds would help schools to quickly assist any injured students and transport them for the appropriate medical assistance. According to the NPPS, it is important for playgrounds to be designed so that all areas are visible to supervisors.12 Providing safety for children at the playground will therefore require the implementation of supervision policies as well as providing instruction and training for those who will be supervisors.

No Tobacco Sign

The second element of the S.A.F.E. model recommends the installation of age-appropriate play equipments in schools. It is recommended that the play areas should include signage that indicate the different age- appropriate groups and supervision requirements. Instead of using a one-size fit all playground, the researchers suggest schools should create separate grade-level play areas for students. According to the standard consumer safety performance specification for playground equipment guidelines, separate playgrounds need to be installed for ages 6 months to 23 months, ages 2 to 5 years, and ages 5 through 12 years.13, 14 For instance, when considering and planning play areas for children between ages 2 to 5 years, the areas should include crawl spaces, smaller steps, low platforms that have many access ramps and ladders, and shorter slides that are not higher than four feet.

Another important element that constitutes the model is fall surfacing. Studies by Tinsworth and McDonald (2001) showed that about 70 percent of injuries related to playgrounds involved a child falling to the surface.8 Several studies have also indicated that falls are one of the main nonfatal, unintentional injuries suffered by children at playgrounds. Thus, taking the appropriate injury prevention steps by examining the surface material under and around play equipment is a key element to providing safe playgrounds. It is also recommended that loose-fill or synthetic materials should be used for fall surfacing but the selection of the materials should vary from area to area depending on the type of play equipment. Examples of acceptable loose-fill materials that could be used for surfacing include shredded rubber, sand, pea gravel or hardwood wooden fiber. Surface materials such as asphalt, cement, dirt and grass are not recommended under and around play equipment.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), falls are the fifth leading cause of accidental injuries to children ages 14 and younger.15 Since it is impossible to prevent children from falling while playing on playgrounds, it is imperative for appropriate fall surfacing materials to be installed under and around play equipment. While is it crucial to consider the surfacing material, it is also important to examine the height of play equipment in order to reduce the severity of fall related injuries. Studies have shown that play equipment more than 6 feet high double the likelihood for injuries.16, 17 Hence, the NPPS suggests playground equipment heights should not go beyond 6 feet for preschool children and 8 feet for school-age children.18

No Tobacco Sign

Finally, implementing the aforementioned elements of the S.A.F.E model without implementing equipment and surface maintenance will not contribute to keeping playgrounds and schools safe. Studies by Hendy (2004) have shown that lack of equipment maintenance is the main cause of injury in approximately 60 percent of all injuries that lead to litigation.19 Thus, it is critical that regular inspection and maintenance practices are implemented in order to keep our play areas safe. For example, play equipment should be regularly checked for opened hooks, opened areas where children could get trapped or strangled and deteriorating equipment should be replaced accordingly. Additionally, routine inspections and maintenance should be conducted for specific equipments and play areas.

In conclusion, playgrounds offer several benefits to children which inevitably, contribute to their physical, social and intellectual development in schools. Thus, in order to maximize these benefits, we need to ensure we keep our playgrounds safe.20


1Glariana, C. E. and Solar, N. J. B. (2015). Status of School Safety and Security among Elementary Schools in the Fifth Class Municipality. Asia Pacific Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, 3 (5), 10-18.

2Malone, K. and Tranter, P.J. (2003). School grounds as sites for learning: Making the most of environmental opportunities. Environmental Education Research, 9 (3), 283-303.

3Bell, A.C. and Dyment, J.E. (2008). Grounds for health: The intersection of green school grounds and health promoting schools. Environmental Education Research, 14 (1), 77-90.

4Chawla, L., Keena, K., Pevec, I. and Stanley, E. (2014). Green school yards as havens from stress and resources for resilience in childhood and adolescence. Health and Places, 28, 1-13.

5Haq, S. M. and Haq, M. M. (1999). Injuries at school: a review. Tex Med, 95 (4), 62-65.

6O’Brien, C.W. (2009). Injuries and Investigated Deaths Associated with Playground Equipment, 2001 – 2008. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Retrieved August 17, 2017 from

7Cheng, T. A., Bell, J. M., Haileyesus, T., Gilchrist, J., Sugarman, D.E., Coronado, V.G. (2016). Nonfatal playground-related traumatic brain injuries among children, 2001-2003. Pediatrics, 137 (6).

8Tinsworth, D. and McDonald, J. (2001). Injuries and Deaths Associated with children’s Playground Equipment. Washington DC: United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.

9Phelan, K. J., Khowry J., Kalkwarf, H. J. Lanphear, B. P. (2001). Trends and patterns of playground injuries in United States children and adolescents. Ambulatory Pediatrics, 1 (4), 227-233.

10Salminen, S., Kurenniemi, M., Raback, M., Markkula, J., and Lounamaa, A. (2014). School Environment and School Injuries. Frontiers in Public Health, 1 (76).

11Hudson, S., and Thompson, D. (2004). Overview of playground safety. In S. Hudson (Ed.), The S.A.F.E playground handbook (pp. 1-8). Cedar Falls, IA: National Program for Playground Safety.

12National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS). Retrieved on August 17, 2017 from

13American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). (2007). F1487. Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for playground equipment for public use. Philadelphia: Author

14Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). (1997). Handbook for public playground safety. Washington, DC: Author.

15Hudson, D. (2008). An Investigation of School Playground Safety Practices as Reported by School Nurses. The Journal of School Nursing, 24 (3), 138-144.

16Filssel, D., Pattison, G., and Howard, A. (2005). Severity of playground fractures: Play equipment verses standing height falls. Injury Prevention, 11, 337-339.

17Macarthur, C., Hu, X., Wesson, D. E. and Parkin, P. C. (2000). Risk factors for severe injuries associated with falls from playground equipment. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 32, 377-382.

18Thompson, D., Hudson, S. H., and Olsen, H. M. (2007). S.A.F.E play areas: Creation, maintenance, and renovation. Champaign, IL: Human kinetics.

19Hendy, T. (2004). The nuts and bolts of playground maintenance. In S. Hudson (Ed.), The Safe playground handbook (2nd Ed.), (pp. 77-86). Cedar Falls, IA: National Program for Playground Safety.

20Olsen, H., M., Hudson, D., S., and Thompson, D. (2008). Developing a Playground Injury Prevention Plan. The Journal of School Nursing, 24 (3), 131-137.