Many public parks with playgrounds are replacing their old equipment with newer, safer pieces. Parks that have been replacing equipment are often doing away with older metal equipment, which was standard until about 15 years ago, and replacing it with plastic or metal coated in plastic equipment. In the article about playground equipment in Alton, IL, the old playground gets replaced with newer equipment, including swing sets and a large jungle gym-like piece that has been the staple of many playgrounds over the past fifteen years. For specifics, the large set of connected playground equipment is 40 feet nine inches by 53.5 feet. A swing set is an additional piece of equipment not attached to this larger jungle gym. According to the article, all pieces are by brand Game Time and the new equipment meet requirements by the ADA.
The equipment, as with any public playground, needs to be supported by wood chips, as dirt or any hard surface isn’t sufficient enough in case of falls from the equipment. Wood chips, as is standard for all public playgrounds now, were put down under the new equipment, at a depth of twelve inches. The wood chips, in addition, were treated to be fire retardant and insect repellant.
As stated in the article, the park did $90,000 worth of changes, and that includes new playground equipment and fixing up places or activities geared toward adults. Olin Park in Alton, like many newer parks after many changes, has areas for adults, as well. While older metal equipment needs to get replaced with safety-compliant, non-metal equipment, areas for adults, including walking paths, need to be cleaned up, as well. In the case of this park, an asphalt walking path was put down with lights to illuminate it at night and, for families, picnic shelters with grills.
Both metal and wood swing set designs are popular for home play areas. When designing a play area, especially one for children above five years of age, one option for having a varied play area, but fewer pieces of separate equipment, is to have a play apparatus. These are more common on public playgrounds, with various pieces connected together – including slides, bridges, swings, climbing equipment, and platforms of varying heights – to form on large jungle gym allowing children to move between types of equipment. This type of play apparatus can be purchased through a retailer like Swing Sets Depot and set up at home.
While a full size play apparatus like the ones seen in public playgrounds isn’t feasible for a backyard (you’ll need six feet between the equipment and all other objects like trees, fences, or walls), swing sets retailers carry similar set ups on a smaller scale and, in some cases, seem to rise up instead of expand out while staying within safety codes. All of these play sets, however, start with a basic wood swing set that consists of a wood frame with two swings attached. As the wood pieces are thicker and sturdier than metal bars, other pieces of equipment can attach to them easily and stay in place without slipping.
What can you add to your wooden swing set? While some wood swing sets already come with other pieces of equipment ready to be installed, others can be added over time to a standard wooden swing set. Some options include:
• Platforms or play houses. The playhouses are essentially platforms with a roof over them. Platforms allow children to climb up to various heights, but, when installing a platform to a wooden swing set, make sure it is no more than eight feet above the ground and has a guardrail to prevent falls. More than one platform can be used and they can be set at various heights within eight feet.
• Slides. These come in straight, wavy, and corkscrew shapes and are plastic. Many of these can attach to a platform or they can have their own ladder.
• Climbers. Climbers can be miniature rock climbing walls, rope rungs, or ladders made of plastic or wood. These can lead up to a platform in a play set.
Although as long as the piece of equipment falls within safety standards the possibilities are limitless, these are the most common pieces of equipment to attach to a wooden swing set to create a unique outdoor play area.
Some accidents can’t be avoided and, in the case of a Utah toddler shocked on a swing set, this playground accident wasn’t a typical accident. When you hear about playground accidents, most of the time, children fall off the playground equipment or the equipment itself isn’t safe – too hot, too many sharp edges – and a child gets hurt while playing. Other times, children may roughhouse on a piece of equipment causing injury. In the case of this freak accident involving a toddler and a swing set, the accident probably happened so quickly that it couldn’t be avoided. After all, the swing set, at least mentioned by this article, was not in poor condition.
In terms of playground safety, few safety guidelines, including ASTM, have standards regarding swing sets and their relationship to power lines. Safety standards talk about surface materials, spacing equipment away from each other, and making sure the area is clear of trip hazards and trees. Power lines can run by homes, or even close to public playgrounds, but it’s seldom that a power line falls down without a storm causing branches or full trees to fall down.
In the case of this incident, the toddler mentioned was in a swing set and wind blew a tree branch into power lines above. The power lines broke, fell on the swing set, and shocked the child with thousands of volts while the child was on the swing set. The current went from his shoulder, through his body, and out his feet. In examining this type of situation, the child was, in essence, in a death trap. Had the electrical current taken a different path, then the child might have been executed. However, one aspect that could have prevented this from happening is if a parent were watching. Playground safety asks that parents be watching their children at all times, especially children younger than five, in case of injuries.
Both older and younger children play on playground equipment but, as children of different ages come in different sizes, the types of playground equipment for children under five years differ from equipment geared toward children between five and 12 years of age. Although the playground equipment is similar in design, the equipment geared toward younger children is smaller and no spinning pieces of playground equipment are included for younger children. Most playgrounds have areas dedicated toward children under five years, and these areas are separate from swings and larger pieces of playground equipment.
Still, if you’re having a difficult time deciding what equipment your young child should be playing on, the best way to determine is measuring the equipment to see if it’s under four feet tall. Equipment with a platform that goes higher than four feet above the ground is designed for older children. If playground equipment has climbing features, equipment for younger children should allow a child to climb no higher than five to seven feet above the ground. Playgrounds may have merry-go-rounds and swing sets, but merry-go-rounds, and any other spinning or raising equipment like a seesaw, is designed for children eight years or older. Younger children may lose their balance on a merry-go-round or seesaw. Swing sets, in addition, while separate from equipment for children under five years, may have baby swings or swings with a strap to keep a younger child inside while being pushed.
The same types of rules apply for both home and public playgrounds. If you’re designing a home play area in your back or front yard for children under five, home playground for this age group includes a mix of plastic and wood equipment. Common pieces of equipment for younger children at home include plastic swing sets and various plastic play apparatus. For the latter, these jungle gyms or play apparatus have a combination of platforms, slides, activity panels, climbers, tunnels, and swings attached together.
How different are safety rules for a public playground different from those for your home? Many of the rules are similar regarding equipment and the surface material below the equipment. As old and outdated metal playground equipment is being replaced by friendlier wood and plastic equipment, safety rules are being revised. Older posts, such as about the playground in Atlanta, discussed older equipment being modified to meet newer safety standards. At least 70 percent of injuries for children regarding playground equipment come from public playgrounds, so meeting the standards in set up and equipment is important to injury prevention. Although no legal set of rules exists, organizations like Consumer Product Safety Commission have a set of standards for equipment and the set up of a playground to make sure children of all ages can have fun and be safe while playing in a public playground.
In terms of the area around the equipment, a surface material must be used, as even dirt isn’t a safe enough cushion or shock absorber for falls. A surface material should be wood ships, gravel, pea gravel, sand, or rubber tiles. All looser material needs to be poured in at least 12 inches and should extend six feet away from the equipment in all directions. For swings, the surface material should extend in both directions from the swing in double the height of the extension bar above the ground. Nine feet of space should be in between pieces of equipment that are 30 inches or higher. The area around the equipment, in addition, should be checked for trip hazards like branches, large rocks, and concrete blocks.
As far as the equipment itself is concerned, all rules regarding sharp edges and entrapments for home equipment also applies to equipment in a public playground. For children of all ages, all spaces should be checked for entrapments. Acceptable spaces in equipment, including ladders and climbing rungs, should be less than 3.5 inches tall or greater than nine inches. Any space with a height between 3.5 and nine inches is an entrapment risk for children playing on the equipment. In additional, all pieces of equipment with platforms need to have guardrails around the platform.
This blog has addressed the two main types of swing sets, wood swing sets and metal swing sets, but a third type of swing sets, plastic swing sets, are designed mainly for younger children. As playground equipment for younger children under five years of age and older children from five to twelve years varies, younger children may get hurt on playground equipment designed for older children and, for the easiest to use equipment, plastic swing sets, as well as other plastic pieces of playground equipment, are recommended.
When creating a small play area for children, plastic swing sets, also known as vinyl swing sets, have some advantages, such as being easier to install and move around and requiring little maintenance. Plastic playground equipment is molded without sharp edges, and the bolts holding the parts together are molded into the plastic as well. The plastic, smooth surface won’t cause a child to get splinters and, even when in the sun, the plastic won’t become hot. While the plastic isn’t made with toxic chemicals, it is heat resistant and won’t melt in hot weather. When choosing a swing set, the plastic allows for many shape and color options if you children want a unique-looking swing set.
The design of a plastic swing set consists of a frame that isn’t as high off the ground as those for wood and metal swing sets. These frames can support up to 100 pounds and have one to two swings attached, as well as a baby swing. Other pieces of equipment can be attached to the swing set, including smaller vinyl slides, climbing toys, steering wheels, and a plastic sandbox.
While a plastic swing set is safe to use for both younger and older children, one safety precaution when using a plastic swing set is keeping it out in the cold. When the temperature goes below freezing, a plastic swing set should be brought indoors to prevent any of the parts from cracking.
Setting up a swing set should be as easy as following the directions that come with the equipment, but the directions don’t always explain safety risks for a swing set. While a swing set should have a label for ASTM-F1148 qualifications for safety, the swing set should be checked, regardless, once it has been set up and the surfacing has been poured below the equipment.
While a swing set with an ASTM-F1148 label is designed to be safe, some safety factors need to be examined before anyone starts to play on the equipment. One of those factors is the weight of the swings. Although older swing sets use metal swings, a home swing set should be made of lightweight materials in case the swing hits a child. Aside from the composition of the swing set, the distances between swings and other pieces of equipment also need to be checked for safety. With standard swings, an eight inch distance needs to be between all swings. When a disc swing or tire swing is added into the apparatus of a swing set, the swing needs a 24 inch distance between itself and other equipment, as it moves in a 360 degree angle and can hit anything in all directions.
The equipment needs to be checked for general safety risks, as well, especially if smaller children will be playing on it. Some risks include head and neck entrapments, which include spaces a child could put his or head into and become stuck and, because of this, a child should never wear a bicycle helmet while using playground equipment. Hanging ropes are another risk, either fro, becoming frayed or loose and breaking or as another space, especially with climbing ropes, that a child could trap his or head in. Other safety risks include fall-prone equipment that is too slippery, too high, or doesn’t have appropriate handles or railings, and swing set safety, particular for babies and toddlers that need to be secured in a seat with a bar.
After you put up a swing set and secure it into the ground, the swing set is ready to be played on, but, after months of play and constant exposure to the elements, a swing set will need maintenance. Before anyone even plays on the swing set, however, the first step to protecting a swing set is treating it to prevent deterioration, and this applies to both wood and metal swing sets. For wood swing sets, the wood will need to be treated to be rot resistant – and this will need to be done every few years – and to prevent insect infestations, while metal swing sets may need to be treated for rust or corrosion, if the metal isn’t galvanized steel.
Many smaller parts, at least once a year, will need to be oiled on a swing set. On the swing set itself, smaller parts and smaller edges need to be taken into safety considerations before and while the swing set is in use. Before any children use the swing set, it should be checked for any sharp or protruding edges and any other entrapment spaces that a child could put his or her neck into and become stuck. All S-hooks on the swings, in addition, need to be connected properly to prevent any injuries.
Another factor for swing sets that needs to be maintained at least once a year is the protective surfacing beneath the swings. The protective surfacing, often wood chips or ground rubber, is used as shock absorbers in case of any falls and, after the swing set or other playground equipment is put up, this material needs to be poured below at a depth of nine to twelve inches thick and should extend at least six feet away from the equipment in all directions. The options for surfacing include wood mulch or chips, wood fiber, shredded rubber mulch, sand, pea gravel, poured-in-place surfacing, and rubber tiles. Regardless of what surfacing you use, the surfacing shouldn’t be poured over an asphalt or concrete surface, and, once it appears worn after a period of time, it should be replaced.
A swing set can’t go just anywhere in a backyard or a public playground, either, and when setting up a swing set, it needs to be put in the proper location in the backyard for users to not get hurt while using it. Although playground equipment designs vary for children under five years and from five to twelve years, the same location standards apply. Although no laws concerning the location of playground equipment, including swing sets, exist, ASTM-F1148 and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission have recommendations regarding home playground equipment to prevent injuries from happening.
The first step when deciding on the location of a swing set is finding a spot in your yard with proper drainage and shade. This particular location should be away from roads and driveways but still visible to any watching adult from the inside of the house or a porch. However, in terms of relation to the house, the swing set needs to be at least six feet away from the side of the house, regardless of whether you plan to put the swing set in back, in front, or on one of the sides of a house. This area should also be clear of trip hazards, including any large branches or rocks that a child or adult could trip over while using the playground equipment. In addition, the swing set should face north if a slide is part of the apparatus.
If you plan to have other playground equipment in the area or have a nearby tree, the swing set needs to be at least six feet away from other pieces of equipment or trees.
Aside from the location of the equipment, the playground equipment itself, including swings and other attached pieces of equipment, shouldn’t have a fall greater than six feet.
Over the past decade, many playgrounds, both school and public, have been replacing old metal playground equipment that is more injury prone with newer wooden and plastic equipment cushioned with a bed of rubber or woodchips. A recent story about elementary school playground equipment in Bohn, CA illustrates that it’s necessary to replace old playground equipment that doesn’t meet safety codes. At one point, about ten to fifteen years ago, many playgrounds in parks and elementary schools still consisted of metal playground equipment on a surface of blacktop or packed dirt. In some cases, some wood chips or rubber panels were added as a slight cushion to prevent falls.
But metal rusts and deteriorates over time and many of these metal playgrounds become hazardous for injuries ranging from cuts and scrapes to broken bones to tetanus. In the case of this article, playgrounds in two elementary schools in Bohn were not up to code, so the equipment was removed. At one school, new equipment was put in for a kindergarten playground, but, for the older students, new equipment was donated by Project Fit America, but was never put together or installed due to a lack of funds. For this playground, the only piece of play equipment remaining is a swing set that is not up to code. According to this article, a swing set that is up to code only has two swings on it and nothing in between.
While the elementary school in Bohn is currently raising $13,000 to install and assemble the new playground equipment, the children from first to fifth grade are playing on old, outdated equipment. As rebuilding a playground up to code seems to be the norm in recent years, preparing for the change over time with newer equipment is logical, as opposed to waiting for the older equipment to be marked not up to code and, then, having to raise money for new equipment. Although these schools are in the process of installing new equipment and the children will need to wait, other schools should take this as an example of planning ahead for their playground, especially when it’s currently filled with older, metal equipment.