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Playground Safety

When considering what type of commercial playground equipment to purchase for your church’s playground, many people are hesitant about trying new or different styles of products. Equipment that appears different may be seen as unproven or possibly unsafe. However, everything is not always as it may appear!

There are manufacturers that make new and unique forms of commercial playground equipment that appeal to young and old alike, allowing them to run, climb and move—keeping active while having fun! Playground equipment is designed for compliance with standards from all over the world, so not only is it fun, but it is also very safe.

Net climbers are a prime example of equipment that is still on the emerging edge of play equipment, especially in North America. Each net climber is specifically designed so there is no way for a child to fall from the top all the way to the ground. This allows net climbers to be built that are very tall while still keeping the safety of a lower fall height. Also, children instinctively hold on and steady themselves while climbing, which means even less likelihood of falling than if they were on a large open play area.

Rotational equipment is another fast-growing sector of playground equipment. Spinners large and small can be found in playgrounds across the continent and around the world. Kids love rotating equipment because it is so dynamic and engaging Rotating climbers are built with speed limiting equipment that helps ensure fun, but at a safe speed. As one school principal said, "Despite initial fears that some had about the safety of this game because of its height and because it rotates, we can see now that it is designed with safety in mind; and, it is by far the children's favorite."

While products may appear safe simply because everyone has them, the new playground products of today are being developed with current safety standards in mind.

Keeping Safety in Sight
Most commercial playground equipment standards do not contain any language that mandates leaving openings in the playground equipment to allow the children playing on it to be seen well. Some guidelines do make mention of good sightlines, but in large part it is left to the playground designer to adhere to good design principles.

Supervision, which is mentioned in the playground equipment standards, is one of the key ways to keep children safe on the equipment. However, proper supervision can be challenging with all the decks, panels, barriers, and so forth that are found on traditional playground equipment. Some jurisdictions have even decided to not install fun playground components, such as tube slides, because of the limited supervision opportunities it provides.

Unlike traditional playground equipment, some playground equipment is made primarily from narrow, but strong, rope cable. Because of the steel reinforcement inside the cable, it is strong enough to withstand constant playground use, but thanks to the relatively small diameter, large net constructions can be created that will allow large numbers of children to play, while providing a very transparent play space with numerous open sightlines for effective supervision.

As has been stated before, the best way to supervise children on any structure is to play along with them.

Safety vs. Challenge
The topic of risk management comes up a lot when an organization is dealing with existing or new commercial playground equipment. But when applied to the playground equipment itself, this terminology falls short of describing what playground designers are trying to achieve.

The terms hazard and risk are often used interchangeably by many people when talking about playground equipment, but they are subtly different in their meanings. A better approach would be to talk about safety and challenge.

Safety, or hazard, relates to what a playground designer does to ensure that there is nothing on a piece of playground equipment that would be injurious to the user, or anything that a user might not be able to perceive as something they need to pay attention to.

There are several playground safety standards that are in place. The specific standard that applies to a given playground would be dependent on what area of the world it is being installed in, and are typically mandated at the federal level. The purpose behind these various standards is to prevent life-threatening and debilitating injuries on our playgrounds.

Challenge, or risk, is an element designed into playgrounds to keep them entertaining for increasingly distracted children, and give the users an opportunity to increase in their skills and abilities.

A key differentiator between challenge and safety is that a challenge is something that the user can identify as an obstacle to overcome and make a mental decision whether to attempt the challenge or not.

Challenge is an essential element that should be made a part of all playgrounds, where the challenge is appropriate for the target age group of the children intended to use the equipment. If sufficient challenge is not designed into a piece of playground equipment, children will find ways to add challenge by using the equipment in ways that it was not intended, which could lead to safety concerns.

At heart, we all desire a little challenge in our day, though perhaps some more than others. Children are no exception.

This article is courtesy of Dynamo Industries, www.dynamoplaygrounds.com.  

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