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The playground is a great place for your child to play outdoors with other children, and to test his new physical skills. To be safe, it’s best to keep watch when he’s balancing, climbing and running.
Muddy young boy playing outside
 

What you need to know about playgrounds

Cuts, bruises and a few tears are the most likely dramas at playgrounds. But falls from playground equipment can also lead to injuries.

The most common injuries at the playground are fractures and dislocations resulting from falls from equipment (such as climbing frames, monkey bars and slides). Between 2002-04, over 12 000 children visited hospitals after falls from playground equipment. One-third of these falls were caused by climbing equipment (such as monkey bars and climbing frames), and one-quarter were caused by trampolines.

Monkey bars are the most likely cause of injuries, although falls from slides, swings, trampolines and climbing frames are also common.

The chance of an injury is greater for preschoolers and primary school-age children, who are still developing body strength and judgment skills. Toddlers also fall often because they’re top-heavy.

Although reasonably common, most injuries in the playground aren’t very serious, and fatal incidents are rare. Playgrounds are much safer since the introduction of stricter Australian Standards in 1996. All playground equipment must, as a minimum, comply with these standards.

Having fun and being safe

To avoid bumps and bruises at the playground, it’s best to play with your child – this can also be a lot of fun! At the very least, keep a close eye on her. By staying close to your child, especially when she’s trying more complicated activities, you can help keep playground visits safe and still give your child plenty of fun.

Tips for preventing accidents

  • If you buckle your child into the swings, he’s far less likely to fall out.
  • Try to keep a close watch on your older child if she’s swinging from the monkey bars and the flying fox – that’s where she’s most likely to fall. Encourage your child to attempt monkey bars when she’s developed the upper body strength to support her own weight and is tall enough to reach the bars on her own. 
  • If you do want to let your child test his limits, stay close by so you can help if he gets into trouble.
  • Without scaring your child too much, try to steer your child away from the following activities. They all come with a pretty high risk of dangerous falls: 
    • climbing on top of the monkey bars
    • jumping from the top of the slide or climbing frame
    • standing on swings
    • going head-first down slides, tubes or poles
    • sitting on or climbing over guardrails or barriers
    • running down slides.
  • Look for a safe ground surface in your playground – the equipment should be set in a thick layer of certified organic mulch or soft rubber flooring (about 300 mm deep is recommended). If hard surfaces are exposed or mulch levels are too low, report it to your local council so they can fix it.
  • A fence around a playground stops young children from escaping on to the road. This makes it much easier if you’re looking after several children at once.
  • It’s safest for children under three to stick to playground equipment less than 1 m in height.
  • It’s safest for children aged 3-5 years to stick to playground equipment less than 1.5 m in height, such as small slides and rockers.
  • Even older children should avoid climbing higher than 2 m off the ground.
  • Watch to make sure your child doesn’t encourage other kids to take risks they’re not ready for, or that he’s not being teased or bullied into things by others.

Trampolines

Trampolines are great fun and kids love them. But they’re also a common source of backyard injuries. Some basic safety tips can go a long way:

  • Always supervise your child when she’s using a trampoline.
  • It’s a good idea to wait until your child is older than six before getting a trampoline.
  • Try to make sure your trampoline has safety pads to cover the frame and springs. Even better, look for one with a safety net installed around the sides.
  • Whether it’s old or new, keep your trampoline well sprung and in good condition at all times.
  • Create a safe, clear area of 2.5 m around the trampoline with a soft surface, such as grass, just in case your child does fall. Or you could set it in a pit dug in the ground.
  • Teach children the following guidelines for safe trampoline use:    
    • Jump in the centre of the mat.
    • Only one child on at a time.
    • Jump with bare feet (no shoes).
    • Only use the trampoline when the mat’s dry.
    • Keep toddlers away while the trampoline’s in use.
    • Avoid somersaults, because these can cause neck and spinal injuries.
Although playgrounds are popular places for your child to play outdoors, they aren’t the only option. You can read our article on outdoor play to learn more about the many ways your child can play outside.
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  • Last Updated 11-04-2011
  • Last Reviewed 26-03-2012
  • Altman, A., Ashby, K., & Stathakis, V. (1996). Childhood injuries from playground equipment. Hazard, 29, 1-12.

    Ashby, K., & Corbo, M. (2000). Child fall injuries: An overview, Hazard, 44, 1-20.

    Helps, Y.L., & Pointer, S.C. (2006). Child injury due to falls from playground equipment, Australia 2002-04 (Report No. INJCAT 91). Retrieved from Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: http://www.nisu.flinders.edu.au/pubs/reports/2006/injcat91.php.

    Sherker, S., & Ozanne-Smith, J. (2004). Are current playground safety standards adequate for preventing arm fractures? Medical Journal of Australia, 180, 562-565.

    Steenkamp, M., & Cripps, R. (2001). Child injuries due to falls. Injury Research and Statistics Series. Adelaide: AIHW.