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Playing It Safe

PIRG:  Playing It Safe:  Conclusion

More and more children are injured on playgrounds each year. And deaths related to public playground equipment -- deaths that could be prevented -- continue to occur. While no play area or piece of equipment can be made completely safe, careful design minimizes injuries and saves children's lives.

 It behooves local authorities to make public playgrounds safer. One estimate showed that in Massachusetts alone, a state with a population of only about 6 million, the lifetime health care costs caused by playground injuries could be conservatively estimated at $10 million each year. An analysis of 215 lawsuits against recreational programs in New York and New Jersey between 1974 and 1987 found that playgrounds led all categories of such suits, and of the 54 (one-quarter of the total) against playgrounds, the primary problem areas included "provision and maintenance of proper surfacing under apparatus and in play areas." 

Despite the high number of hazardous playgrounds found in this survey, the situation is not hopeless -- playgrounds can be built safely and provide lots of fun and challenges for children. But more should be done to reach this objective. PIRG and CFA offer the following recommendations:

 (1) States and local governments: Adopt CFA's "Model Law on Public Play Equipment and Areas." The requirements of the model law are separated into three sections.

  • Requirements applicable to all play areas and equipment, 
  • Requirements applicable to play areas and equipment intended for use by pre-school children, aged 2 through 5 years, and


  • Requirements applicable to play areas and equipment intended for use by school-age children, aged 5 through 12 years.


For the greatest level of safety, all applicable provisions in the model law should be adopted. However, it is possible for a section or subsection to be adopted depending upon need. A child care licensing entity, for example, might adopt only the general and preschool-age requirements, if they only regulate centers serving children five and under. The protective surfacing provisions are also suitable for adoption alone.

 (2) Parents, school administrators, child care providers and park personnel: Evaluate your local playgrounds and work to make each playground safer.

As a first step in evaluating the safety of a playground, parents and others can use CFA's Parent Checklist. It is available for free to individuals by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Parent Checklist, P. O. Box 12099, Washington, D.C. 20005-0999. If any hazards are found, the owner or operator of the playground should be contacted and corrective action should be demanded.



©1999 Public Interest Research Groups