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Playground Sets

Play it safe when comparing playground sets

Do you remember the warning your mother gave you, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt”? Well, playtime shouldn’t end up in tears. Unfortunately, back yard accidents on playground sets are all too common. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, 51,000 children are treated in U.S. hospitals each year for injuries sustained in a home playground set accident. Many of these injuries could have been prevented with more careful attention to safety factors.

A playground set is a wonderful addition to a home with children. It turns the yard into an adventure zone where young minds can explore their imagination and young bodies can get the physical exercise they need. By making safety a priority when evaluating playground sets, you can choose the system that doesn’t put your kids in harms way.

You can start by choosing a wooden playground set. Plastic isn’t durable or sturdy enough to withstand outdoor conditions for long periods of time. A metal playground set must be anchored into the ground for balance. Plus, metal can rust, crack, and break. It also conducts heat so metal components will be hot to the touch on a sunny day.

Once you start looking at wooden playground sets, here are some safety factors to consider.

Not all woods are the same when it comes to safety.

For optimum durability, choose redwood or cedar. They naturally resist insect onslaughts and hold up to even the harshest weather. These sturdy woods won’t crack or warp so they provide long-lasting safety. There are other choices, like Southern Yellow Pine, but they are likely to have been chemically treated to deliver some of the benefits of redwood and cedar — and still don’t measure up.

Watch out for snags, jags, and lags.

Look closely at the construction of the playground sets you are considering. The hardware should be recessed to avoid scraping the skin or snagging clothes, which could cause a fall. Also make sure that any “S” hooks are tightly closed so they don’t catch on anyone or anything. The wood should be well sanded and smooth to the touch—no splinters! This is a good quality control measurement because it shows that the craftsman didn’t cut corners on the construction. Check the joinery to make sure the playground set is solid, and going to stay that way. Triple joint construction is preferred. If there is a fort or platform, check the strength of the supports. Also, remember that the rungs on the ladders should be skid-proof and sized for small feet.

Remember that kids will be kids.

The higher the playground set, the higher your kids are going to climb. If you have monkey bars, the little ones will do their best to reach them. To provide a safe play area, make sure you buy a playground set that suits your child’s current abilities, not where she will be in a few years. Install age-appropriate accessories. Buy the more sophisticated ones in advance, if you like, but don’t install them until your child is able to maneuver them safely. Also keep in mind that if there is a small space, your child will likely want to crawl through. That means guardrails as well. Be sure they are spaced so that a child’s head can’t get caught between them. The CPSC suggests openings of less than three and a half inches or greater than nine inches.

Make room.

The footprint of the playground set is not the only area you need for your system. Kids need room to swing back and forth and run around the playground set. The CPSC recommends that you allow at least eight inches between suspended swings, and the bottom of the swing seat should have at least eight inches of clearance from the ground. To calculate the clearance for swinging back and forth, double the height of the swing from the bottom to the hanger. For a slide, add six feet beyond the bottom of the slide and four feet on each side so that kids can safely move around it.

Grass doesn’t provide for safe landings.

The majority of injuries on playground sets occur when a child falls. To soften the landing, you need more than just your lawn to protect kids. The CPSC warns that, “grass and turf lose their ability to absorb shock through wear and environmental conditions.” Double shredded bark mulch, wood chips, fine sand, or rubber chips provide good protection under your playground set and the surrounding use area.  The minimum depth of the surface should be six inches, but more is recommended.

Once you install your playground set, check it regularly for wear. Look for the hazards mentioned here. Remove any debris from the play area as any foreign object—even a small toy—could be dangerous if a child falls on it. Most of all, provide proper supervision when young children are playing. When you pay attention to choosing the right playground set, safety truly is child’s play.