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How To Inspect Your Playground

Playgrounds take a lot of wear and tear. Here's what to look for to make sure your playground remains a safe environment for kids.

You might think of your school’s playground as a kind of steady ornament. It’s always there, decorating the yard. Day and night, winter and summer, sun and rain and snow. In a way, the play structure might seem like an extension of the building. Maybe you don’t even really notice it anymore, now that you’ve walked past it so many times.

But for all its outward appearance of steadiness, the playground is in fact a changing environment. The wear and tear of regular use by dozens or even hundreds of kids takes its toll. So do the combined forces of wind and weather. The result: A loose bolt here, a new crack there, some trash left on the play surface.

Free play, the kind that engages children on playgrounds, helps them develop their motor skills, teaches social skills, and even aids in cognitive development. Your play structure is a valuable tool, and your school has likely invested many thousands of dollars to build it. Now, keep it in top shape and make it last with a little regular maintenance.

If you purchased your playground in the last several years, you likely have a maintenance guide from the manufacturer. If you playground is older or if you have lost that document, it’s possible that the playground hasn’t been inspected for many years. Your play structure and the area around it should be maintained regularly. Here are some basics of playground inspection and maintenance.

The Surface

Start by examining the surfacing underneath the playground. It should be free of debris such as trash and animal droppings.

If your playground has a surface of loose fill, make sure the fill is spread evenly. Loose fill tends to migrate away from use areas, such as the landing spots at the ends of slides and underneath swings. Also, make sure that the fill hasn’t become compacted in these areas. If it has, break it up. As a general rule, fill should be 12 inches deep for equipment up to eight feet high, according to the National Program for Playground Safety.

If your playground has a synthetic surface such as rubber mats, look for cracks or cuts. Also, make sure the edges haven’t begun to curl.

If the area has a wooden border, check for splintering and decay.

The Equipment

Examine the play structure for cracks and breakage. Make sure handrails are in place and firmly attached. Give the stairs a shake to make sure they’re not loose. If you have metal equipment, check for rust spots that need to be repainted. On wooden equipment, look for splinters, large cracks, and rotting. On plastic equipment, pay attention to discoloration. In some cases it might indicate excessive wear. Run your hand over plastic parts. They shouldn’t have any obvious imperfections.

At ground level, is the equipment still firmly anchored? Are there any tripping hazards such as exposed footings or even rocks or roots?

Now take a closer look. Are there any sharp edges on the equipment that could cut hands or snag clothes? Make sure all of the bolts and nails are tight and not protruding. You should never be able to turn a bolt with your fingers. Keep an eye out for missing protective caps or plugs. These are common on ladders and climbers. All S-hooks, which are typical fasteners on swings, should be closed. Make sure the hooks haven’t started to wear out, too.

If your play structure has moving parts, make sure they are in working order. Look for wear in gears, and check to see that parts are properly oiled. Inspect chains and ropes. Are they secure and in good condition?

Grab the see-saw handles to make sure they are secure and can be gripped easily by the children. Make sure bumpers are in place to create a soft landing.

General

To clean your playground equipment, stick to mild detergents such as soap and water. Bleach eats away rubber and glue. Wooden structures should be treated with wood preservative once a year. Metal equipment should be repainted as needed. If your school has a metal playground installed before 1978, lead paint might be an issue.

The National Consumer Product Safety Commission provides a maintenance checklist as an appendix to its “Handbook for Public Playground Safety.” You can download it at www.cpsc.gov. The National Program for Playground Safety also publishes maintenance and inspection guidelines. The website is www.playgroundsafety.org.

Craig Bystrynski is editor in chief of PTO Today magazine and ptotoday.com. Connect with Craig in the ptotoday.com Community.

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Comments

  1. Posted by - Matthew on Sep. 25, 2013

    A very informative post. Ensuring play safety and also that a playground is actually fun from the kid's point of view are both critical factors. I would be very interested to know what people's thoughts are on how 'fun' a playground is today!

    I actually work for a company called Playsafe, who provide software to help playground inspectors easily, simply and accurately record their playground inspections. You may wish to check it out, I think you would find it quite interesting. It's a great asset to ensuring the playgrounds are inspected accurately, and that any problems are resolved in an efficient manner.
  2. Posted by - Austin Stanfel on Mar. 03, 2013

    Thanks for the great post. Playground safety is often misunderstood and anything that is informative like this helps keep the kids safe.
  3. Posted by - commercial playground" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Steve Lockwood on Jan. 24, 2013

    Thanks so much for posting about this! I have a bunch of nephews who play outside all the time and when they head to the park their parents aren't very conscious of whether or not the equipment is safe. I think that their city should hire professionals to build a commercial playground in their city. Thanks!

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