Playground Safety

Millions of children throughout the country enjoy playgrounds every day of the year. Whether at school, the neighborhood park, or at a local fast food chain, kids all have one common goal-HAVING FUN! It’s pretty much a sure bet that one thing they aren’t thinking about is having fun SAFELY.

As business owners, public agencies, and parents, it is our responsibility to make play areas both enjoyable and safe.

Since January 2000, California’s playgrounds have been subject to the playground safety regulation R-39-97, as well as AB 1055. If you are unfamiliar with these rules and regulations, the following applies to all playgrounds open to the public:

  • An initial inspection completed by October 1, 2000, by a Certified Playground Safety Inspector.
  • Compliance with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Handbook for Public Playground Safety.
  • Compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Final Guidelines for Play Areas.
  • Compliance with the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) Playground Safety Guidelines.

The CPSC has been the leading organization involved with playground safety since the late 1970s, but playground safety can be traced back as far as the 1930s when the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) recommended that a piece of equipment called a “Giant Stride” be removed from all public playgrounds because it was unsafe. The NRPA is the organization which currently certifies Playground Safety Inspectors.

In 1981 the first playground safety guidelines were published by CPSC, and since then they have been responsible for revisions to the guidelines, as well as issuing hazard alerts like “Moveable Soccer Goals”, “Preventing Burns on Metal Equipment”, “Drawstring Strangulation Hazards”, and “Lead-based Paint Hazards on Playground Equipment”. They were also responsible for the move to remove dangerous animal swings from public playgrounds in 1995. Unfortunately their efforts were not backed by formal regulations and very few playgrounds were ever brought up to their recommended playground safety levels. All that seems to have changed with R-39-97.

By now, all public playgrounds should have had an initial inspection and should be well on the way to complying with AB 1055, which required compliance with R-39-97 by January 2003. With the extensive changes that will be necessary to most playgrounds, it will not be easy or inexpensive for owners and agencies to comply with these rules and regulations. Some experts fear that many owners will simply remove all the equipment rather than deal with the costs associated with providing a safe and fun playground. Even those playgrounds that are brought into compliance will still be unsafe if children play recklessly due to lack of supervision.

The amount of knowledge required to deal with playground safety issues and regulations is exhaustive, and there is no way to address all aspects of the regulations in a newsletter. If this information is news to you and you are an owner or agency with playgrounds, or if you would like more information regarding playground safety, contact your local HMS, Inc. office. Also, you may obtain copies of the following publications on the Internet at the addresses provided.

CPSC Handbook for Public Playground Safety and Alerts

ADA Final Guidelines for Play Areas

ASTM Playground Safety Guidelines

F1487-98 (fee charged)

Written by Kathy Watts, Manager of Hazard Management Services, Inc’s office in Bakersfield, CA.

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