From UBC Wiki
Safety Regulations For Play
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Safety regulations, especially on playground equipment, have become a big part in the assurance of the safety of children’s play. Injury prevention plays a key role in promoting children’s safety, which is considered to involve keeping children free from the occurrence or risk of injury (Brussoni, Olsen, Pike, Sleet 2012). Playground equipment (types of apparatuses and their material make up) is being compared to a set of safety standards, which will determine whether or not they will be given a building permit. These regulations and standards are being put in place to protect the well being of children and prevent accidents involving choking, ingestion of dangerous chemicals, falling, or any other physical injuries.

General Safety Standards

Equipment, product design, and materials used are all compared to standards to ensure the safety of the product, for use by its consumers. All information on safety standards for this section was taken from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Public Playground Safety Handbook (2008).


Types of Equipment

Which types of equipment will be used is an important question to ask when building playgrounds for children. The CPSC Public Playground Safety Handbook (2008) states: “playgrounds should be designed to stimulate children and encourage them to develop new skills, but should be in scale with their sizes, abilities, and developmental levels” (p. 8). Many types of equipment have been removed due to conflict with the CPSC regulations. The list of equipment not recommended includes: trampolines, rope swings, and multiple occupancy swings. It can be argued that there are major implications for which types of equipment are utilized in playgrounds, in terms of proper motor development of children.


The ground surface around the playground is an imperative aspect of children’s safety, especially in regards to prevention of potential fall or head injuries. Tests are employed to assess the shock absorption of materials when choosing appropriate substances for surfacing. Tests also provide critical height restrictions on playgrounds, according to the shock absorption of said protective surfaces. Compression of the surface must be taken into consideration when calculating minimum fill-depth. An initial depth of 25% more than required should be implemented. It must also be ensured that all materials used are non-toxic. In addition to these regulations, all surfacing must be re-visited and well maintained over time.

Equipment Material

The building material used to construct the play equipment will determine its durability, and its resilience to high use over time. Metals used must be coated to avoid extreme temperature increase, or placed out of direct sunlight. Woods are required to be resistant to rotting or insects to prevent the deterioration of its surfaces, and contain no toxic chemicals or treatments. Paints must meet anti-lead regulations and ensure that its substances cannot chemically harm users. After construction, the hardware used for fixing the playground must be either covered or smooth to avoid lacerations, secure, and moving joints should be properly lubricated.

Playground Accident Occurrence

Frequency and Significance

The occurrence of accidental injury on children’s playgrounds is high relative to other play activities. The U.S. Consumers Product Safety Commission Hazard Report (2004) states that playground equipment was responsible for more than 500,000 medically treated injuries, with nearly 230,000 of those being treated in the ER. Surprisingly this number is nearly double that of the accidents caused by trampolines (222,800), and skateboards (281,960), which are generally thought, by caregivers of children, to be more dangerous than playgrounds. The cost associated with these accidents is also extremely elevated. The cost of medically treated injuries and deaths of children due to playground equipment totaled more than 11 billion dollars in 2002. This large sum of accident costs could potentially be reduced significantly with the application of prevention strategies.

Addressable Occurrences

The addressable occurrences of injuries are the estimates percentages of the current number of accidents that can be avoided with the application of prevention tactics. The CPSC Hazard Screening Report (2004) estimates that with proper application of prevention strategies – for example product recall, and equipment safety regulations – 68% of total injuries associated with playground accidents could be avoided. This is extremely significant relative to other activity injury prevention, the second highest of which is the prevention of Skateboard injuries at 36%. The 68% decrease signifies an 8.5 billion dollar reduction in cost associated with playground injuries as well (CPSC Hazard Screening Report, 2004). Though these statistics are merely estimates, and studies do not show the complete population of injuries, it is quite noteworthy that playground equipment ranks number 1 in maximal addressable costs of all types of physical play accidents.

Age Restrictions

When designing playgrounds one must consider the age range of children for which the equipment will be used. The playgrounds designed for older school-aged children tend to be more complex with more challenging activities, whereas ones intended for use by preschoolers will display fewer aspects and less challenging features. General constraints of preschool intended playgrounds include shorter height restrictions, smaller handgrips and shorter maximum step-up height between stairs and platforms. Also, according to the CPSC Safety Handbook (2008), equipment such as free standing flexible climbers, arch climbers, track rides, log rolls, fulcrum seesaws, and many more are not recommended on the playgrounds intended for toddlers and preschool children. Equipment recommended for use by preschool aged children include but are not limited to ramps, rung ladders, spiral slides (up to one full turn), spring rockers and stairways (CPSC Handbook, 2008).

Implications of Safety Regulations on Child Development

In children’s development, play and physical activity perform an important role in healthy maturation and skill acquisition. As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges (Ginsburg, 2007). This is especially important in motor milestone attainment, particularly for children in the age range of 3 to 5. Opper (1996) states: “At each age level from 3 to 5 years the child builds on and expands previous motor skills so that by the end of the preschool period, at 6 years, the child has acquired a wide range of gross and fine motor skills” (p. 21). These skills include but are not limited to running, climbing, jumping, hopping, and balancing (Opper, 1996). A question might be: Are we allowing our children to properly expand their collection of motor skill with the addition of new environmental components, or are the safety regulations imposed hindering their development? The CPSC Playground Safety Handbook (2008) often states that young preschool children should be deterred from using certain playground equipment, due to lack of physical skills such as balance coordination and upper body strength, therefore this equipment isn’t included in the playgrounds intended for this age group. Half of the recommended equipment for the ages of 3-5 is stairs, ladders and ramp, all of which facilitate climbing (CPSC Playground Safety Handbook, 2008). However, according to Opper (1996), during the ages of 3-5 climbing is already one of the top developed skills in children. In fact, there are few equipment suggestions for pre-school children that challenge the skills that they have not yet developed to their full extent, such as balance, jumping and hopping. This could be a major hindrance on their development of these abilities. Brussoni, Olsen, Pike & Sleet (2012) agree that imposing too many restrictions on children’s outdoor risky play may be hampering their development. Brussoni et al. (2012) also state that absence of opportunities for outdoor risky play will result in children disengaging from physical activity. With less physical activity, there is a risk of childhood obesity, health problems, as well as a greater decrease in motor milestone acquisition, which can ultimately hinder natural maturation.


The overall safety of our children is very important, but it cannot be at the expense of proper motor development. As stated by Brussoni et al. (2012), children should be kept “as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible” (p. 3142). This implies that there is a line between protecting our children from danger, and hindering their development by imposing too many regulations on play. It should be encouraged to have some risk taking, and potential for injury, to facilitate the ability to recognize that danger, to make informed choices, and to acquire the motor abilities to avoid such hazards. Brussoni et al. (2012) encourage the injury prevention field to foster opportunities to engage in outdoor risky play that align with safety efforts. Those safety efforts must be in line with the idea that challenging motor skills of children can help fine tune those abilities for the future. During the manufacturing of playgrounds, age needs to be considered in terms of motor skill attainment that is occurring during those years, and to create a playground environment that stimulates those skills. Brussoni et al. (2012) suggest an environment that encourages safe play but does not eliminate all risks. Though this may create hazards for children of that age, the benefits far outweigh the risks. It allows the child to recognize and evaluate the challenge and decides on a course of action that is not dangerous, but may still involve an element of risk (Brussoni, et al., 2012). The addition of climbing, balance stimulating, and other slightly more challenging equipment to the playgrounds intended for pre-school children will provide such an environment. Parental figures can also encourage, and not deter from, rough and tumble play among friends and siblings, and when visiting playgrounds at school or the park, allow for risk-taking play. Though caregivers of toddlers, preschoolers, and school age children want to keep their children safe, the safest thing they can do for their children in the long run is allow them to get a few scrapes and bruises for the purpose of motor development.


Brussoni, M., Olsen, L. L., Pike, I., & Sleet, D. A. (2012). Risky Play and Children’s Safety: Balancing Priorities for Optimal Child Development. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 9, 3134-3148.

Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 119, 182-191.

Opper, S. (1996). Hong Kong’s Young Children: Their Early Development and Learning. Hong Kong, CN: Hong Kong University Press, HKU.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. (2004). Hazard Screening Report, Outdoor Activities and Equipment Generally Considered Children’s Products, but also used by Adults. Retrieved from

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. (2008). Public Playground Safety Handbook. Retrieved from

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. (2010). Laboratory Test Manual For Toy Testing: Requirements for Testing of Toys and Other Articles Intended for Use by Children 12 Years and Younger. Retrieved from