Every year in the United States alone there are more than 156,000 children under the age of 14 years who are injured on public playgrounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The injuries range in seriousness, from bumps and bruises, to cuts and life-threatening emergency situations, and the CDC estimates that approximately 45% of playground injuries are severe.
Part of the reason there’s an increased playground risk is that children tend to find a variety of different methods of using playground equipment other than the intended purposes. Young imaginations will explore play beyond the recommended guidelines, which can lead to injury. While you cannot always control how each child will use the play structures provided, you can, however, control how you provide notices that guide play, educate parents and caregivers, and reduce the instances of injuries.
Remember that as the owner or responsible party for a public playground, you have the duty to warn about potential hazards, and inform of proper use of equipment for safety. Without adequate signage or labels to educate about proper use of equipment, supervision, or risks, playground owners and organizations can find themselves to be legally liable for injuries.
We have provided the most critical instances where warning and labeling are required for public playgrounds below.
Warning for Hard Surfacing
While no play structure should be installed without certified surfacing, any Playground equipment that is installed on top of hard surfaces requires a “Surfacing Warning” according to F1487-11 section 14.2.5. of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Public Playground Equipment Standard.
Warning for Risk of Strangulation
As outlined in the ASTM Standard F1487-11 section 14.2.3, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) section 3.2.1, the risk of strangulation must be posted on playground structures or independent play structures. If there is a risk of strangulation by clothing, jewelry, jump ropes, helmets or even pet leashes, the signage should insist on the removal of all lose items for safe use of the playground.
Warning for Hot Surfaces
Some types of playground equipment (particularly in hot climates) can present a burning hazard when children come into content with plastic or metal components. In arid or warm climates we recommend play structures that include fabric or plastic roof shading to help moderate temperature, however the surface temperature of a playground is difficult to control for outdoor equipment.
A sign posted that requires supervising adults to touch and verify the surface heat of the structure before allowing children to access it is required according to ASTM Standard F1487-11 section 14.2.4, and CPSC sections 2.1, 188.8.131.52, and 2.5.3 and 5.3.6.
Age Range Appropriateness Information
It is almost impossible for parents and caregivers to ascertain the age appropriateness of any play structure just by looking at it. That’s why it is important to label the age and ability appropriateness of all equipment in a playground to prevent children from using equipment which exceeds their abilities and safety needs. Refer to CPSC sections 2.2.6, 2.2.7, and 184.108.40.206.2, as well as F1487 sections 5.2 and 14.2.1 of the ASTM Public Playground Equipment Standards.
Adult Supervision Requirements
Adult supervision is always required for children who are using playground equipment and should be expected at public parks. However adults do require a reminder that, while the playground equipment is safety certified, governing the safe play behavior of their own child is impossible to predict or govern. That’s why a reminder is key, as outlined in ASTM Standard F1487-11 section 14.2.2, and the CPSC sections 1.6 and 2.2.7.
Appropriate Surfacing Level Markers
Safety surfacing material is a mandatory requirement for playground safety, and a certified surfacing option should be installed under every piece of commercial playground equipment. However, in older parks or playgrounds, the surfacing may not be regularly maintained. Depending on the type of surfacing, the “pile” or depth of the surfacing may be compacted and contribute to (rather than prevent) playground injuries.
Placing a surfacing level marker label on support posts provides both a reminder for maintenance as well as a visual aid for caregivers to monitor the safety level of the surfacing. If it is below the acceptable level of depth for injury prevention, caregivers can opt to prohibit children from playing on the equipment to prevent injury. We recommend refilling in regular intervals of surface materials. Refer to CPSC sections 220.127.116.11. (No.4) and 4.3.
Remember that is it better to provide more labels and warnings in your park than it is to open yourself to legal liability for failure to warn. Also ensure that labels and signs are regularly inspected on your playground to ensure legibility; if guests to your park cannot read the warnings, you are liable for any injuries that may occur as a result of their inability to be informed of the risks of using your playground equipment.
Protect your community and organization by providing accurate labels that help children and caregivers make the right choices to avoid playground injury. If you are unsure of any of your obligations as a playground owner or operator, feel free to call one of our specialists at 1-800-381-4491.