Atlantis Orthopedics and I will be parting ways. I appreciate all of their support and collegiality over the years. Unfortunately, I will not be accepting any new patients under the auspices of AO after 12/25/22.

Playground Safety Checklist

Playground Injuries in 2002

More than 486,000 injuries related to playground equipment occurred among persons younger than age 20.


Injuries related to:

0-19 years

Monkey Bars, Other Climbing Equipment






Other Playground Equipment






Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's 2002 NEISS data and estimates, based on injuries treated in hospitals, doctors' offices/clinics, ambulatory surgery centers and hospital emergency rooms.

Estimated cost of playground equipment-related injuries, individuals younger than age 20: $11.1 billion

(2001 costs include medical, legal and liability, pain and suffering and work loss expenses.)  

  • Can children grasp handrails easily?

    Handrails, climbing bars and overhead rungs should measure 1.25 inches in diameter, although .95 to 1.55 inches is acceptable.  

  • Are fulcrum see-saws too steep?

    The maximum attainable angle between the ground and the teeter-totter seat touching the ground should be 25 degrees.  

  • Are steps and rungs spaced evenly?

    The vertical distance (riser) between steps or rungs should be wide enough so that a child's head or body cannot become trapped. In a playground for preschoolers, closed risers should be used if the space between the top of one step and the bottom of the next step (or platform) is between 3.5 and 9 inches; the open rungs of a ladder must be at least 9 inches apart. In a playground for older children, closed risers should be used if the space between steps is less than 12 inches; ladder rungs must be at least 12 inches apart.  

  • Do elevated surfaces have protective barriers?

    With the exception of slides and most climbing equipment, any walkway platform or other elevated surface higher than 30 inches that is used by preschoolers should have a protective barrier. Older children need one for surfaces higher than 4 feet.  

  • What is the surface underneath and around the playground equipment?

    Avoid any playground that has a concrete or asphalt surface because these materials have no shock-absorbing properties and can result in severe injury. Also not recommended for surfacing are soil, grass, packed dirt and turf since their shock-absorbing ability can be reduced by wear as well as weather conditions.  

  • Does the playground surface have shock-absorbing properties?

    Sixty percent of playground injuries are due to falls. Soft surfaces such as wood chips, shredded tires, double shredded bark mulch, fine gravel and fine sand reduce the risk of injury. These loose fill surfaces, if properly maintained, are better able to absorb shock from a fall.  

  • Is the platform at the top safe?

    There should be no gaps between the platform and the top of the slide chute. The platform should be horizontal and at least as wide as the slide; a width of 22 inches is recommended for free-standing slides. A child also needs a panel or bar to hold onto as he/she reaches the top of the slide and sits down to descend.  

  • Are the swings hung properly?

    Hangers at the top of the swing should be spaced no less than 20 inches apart, to limit side-to-side motion. Unidirectional swings (e.g., traditional swings) should be placed at least 30 inches from the support structure and at least 2 feet apart. No more than two swings should be hung in one bay.  

  • Is the slide exit adequate for the children?

    The slide exit region of all slides should be at least 11 inches long. It should be positioned 7 to 15 inches off the ground if the slide is higher than 4 feet. The slide exit of smaller slides should not be more than 11 inches off the ground. All slide exits should have curved or rounded edges.  

  • Are swing seats safe?

    Swing seats should be made of rubber or plastic, not wood or metal. They should not be large enough to hold more than one child at a time. Tot (bucket-type) swing seats should support the child on all sides and be at least 24 inches from the ground.  

  • Is the slope too steep?

    The slide incline should average 30 degrees or less. No span of the slide should be steeper than 50 degrees.  

  • Do stairways have handrails on both sides?

    Beginning with the first step, handrail height should be between 22 and 26 inches for preschoolers; between 22 and 38 inches for older children.  

  • How high should guardrails be?

    For preschoolers, guardrails are recommended for platforms 21 to 30 inches high. For school-age children, guardrails should be installed on platforms 31 to 48 inches high. Guardrails on elevated surfaces should begin no more than 23 inches above the platform for preschoolers; 28 inches above the platform for school-age children. The upper part of the guardrail should be no more than 29 inches high for preschoolers and 38 inches high for school-age children.  

  • Are overhead rungs spaced properly?

    Adjacent rungs of horizontal overhead ladders should be more than 9 inches apart so that a child's head cannot become trappe. Rungs used by preschoolers should be a maximum of 12 inches apart; those used by school-age children should be a maximum of 15 inches apart. No rung should turn when grasped.

August 2003

All Information Copyright © American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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