Inside: Playgrounds

March 1, 2004
Achieving playground Safety; Researching Rubber; More Playgrounds Needed


The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has compiled a safety checklist for playgrounds at schools and other public spaces:

  • Make sure surfaces around playground equipment have at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand or pea gravel, or are mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like materials.

  • Protective surfacing should extend at least 6 feet in all directions from play equipment. For swings, be sure the surfacing extends, in back and front, twice the height of the suspending bar.

  • Make sure play structures more than 30 inches high are spaced at least 9 feet apart.

  • Check for dangerous hardware, such as open “S” hooks or protruding bolt ends.

  • Make sure spaces that could trap children, such as openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs, measure less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches.

  • Check for sharp points or edges in equipment.

  • Look out for tripping hazards, such as exposed concrete footings, tree stumps and rocks.

  • Make sure elevated surfaces, such as platforms and ramps, have guardrails to prevent falls.

  • Check playgrounds regularly to see that equipment and surfacing are in good condition.

  • Carefully supervise children on playgrounds to make sure they're safe.


The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the Iowa Legislature to study the safety of playground surfacing material manufactured in Iowa.

The program, based at the University of Northern Iowa, will examine how playground-surfacing mats created from recycled tires affect playground safety.

“Our primary reason for pursuing this project is improving safety on the playground since falls account for 70 percent of playground injuries,” says Donna Thompson, NPPS director.

Playgrounds often are surfaced with wood chips, sand or pea gravel, but the NPPS says that rubber surfacing offers several advantages. The cushioning effect of other materials decreases over time because of displacement by children or the elements; rubber mats offer uniform coverage that lasts longer. The mats also improve playground accessibility for children with disabilities.

Rubber mats will be installed at randomly chosen school playgrounds throughout Iowa. The NPPS will track injury information for one year after installation and then report the results.


Children and adolescents in the United States do not have adequate access to playgrounds, according to a Gallup survey.

The 2003 study found that only one in two households believes the playground nearest to their home is in very good condition and well-maintained. It also found that less than half of American children have a playground within walking distance of their homes. One in three of those responding said there are not enough playgrounds in their community to serve the population of children living there.

The random survey of 1,200 persons nationwide was conducted by Gallup in 2003 and sponsored by KaBoom! and The Home Depot.

KaBoom! is a not-for-profit organization that brings individuals, civic groups, businesses and foundations together to build much-needed, safe playgrounds. From its founding in 1995 through the end of 2003, KaBoom! created more than 600 playgrounds and improved 1,300 others at schools and other community sites.

FREQUENCY OF PLAYGROUND USE BY HOUSEHOLDS WITH CHILDREN AGES 3 TO 12Daily 5% Several times a week 24% Once a week 17% Several times a month 18% Once a month 14% Less than once a month 14% Not at all 7% (Figures rounded)
Source: 2003 Gallup Playground Study, commissioned by KaBoom! and The Home Depot

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