Playground Safety Considerations: Guidelines, Standards and Best Practices for Industry Professionals

From general considerations about selecting the right site, layout, equipment and surfacing, to minimizing hazards, maximizing accessibility and putting a maintenance plan in place, there is a lot to achieve when installing, upgrading or maintaining a playground. The thread that pulls through each of these considerations is the need to make safety a top priority. Here is how.


  • A safer, more convenient location for a public playground is a shaded, unpolluted and well-maintained space with light traffic and no hazards such as streams, ponds, cliffs, etc. If that is not the case, the site must be fully fenced in with gates that close.
  • Playground sites should be free of any larger structures such as walls, utility or maintenance sheds that are not related to play, so children are visible to parents and caregivers at all times.
  • To ensure better safety and accessibility, playgrounds should sit on level ground with any slopes less than 5%, and free of tripping hazards, such as exposed concrete footings, tree stumps or rocks.
  • Check out IPEMA’s Checklist for Access to learn more about key accessibility considerations.


  • It is recommended that playgrounds have separate areas with appropriately sized equipment and materials to serve ages 2-5 and ages 5-12. Signs posted in the area — or on the equipment — should provide guidance as to their age appropriateness.
  • If a playground is designed to serve children of all ages, the layout of pathways and the landscaping should show the distinct areas for the different age groups, and these areas should be separated by a buffer zone, fencing or shrubs.
  • In addition, all play structures more than 30 inches high must be spaced at least 9 feet apart, while elevated surfaces also need to have guardrails and ramps for accessibility.
  • See IPEMA’s Inclusivity Checklist for additional tips to create an inclusive playground.


  • Playground equipment must be manufactured only of materials that have a demonstrated record of durability in a playground or similar setting.
  • All equipment must be assembled and installed according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
  • All equipment should be free of dangerous hardware, like open “S” hooks or protruding bolt ends, as well as sharp points or edges.
  • Spaces that could trap children, such as openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs, must measure less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches. Visit to learn about current standards and IPEMA’s certification program.


  • The safer, more accessible playground surfaces include poured in place (PIP) rubber, safety-tested rubber mats, rubber mulch, engineered wood fiber or artificial turf. Inappropriate surface materials include asphalt, concrete, dirt or grass.
  • When using loose fill, it must be at least 8 to 12 inches deep to cushion falls, especially under swings and slides.
  • Surfacing should also extend directly underneath and at least six feet in all directions from the play equipment. For swings, surfacing should extend back and front to twice the height of the suspending bar. See IPEMA’s Playground Surfacing Resource to learn more about ADA-compliant playground surfacing.


  • Playgrounds should have a maintenance plan in place to ensure the equipment is maintained to its original specifications, gets painted or stained, any missing or broken parts gets fixed, any loose fill gets spread or replaced as needed, as well as trash cans placed and regularly emptied.
  • Maintenance crews must also be vigilant about trash on the ground, especially sharp and/or unhygienic objects such as glass, bottle caps, or needles, all of which can cause injury if present on playground surfaces.
  • It is a good idea to provide a way for parents and caregivers to contact the playground’s maintenance supervisor with any safety concerns — missing guardrails or steps, protruding nuts or bolts, as well as rusty metal, cracked plastic or splintered wood on the equipment. See the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Public Playground Safety Handbook for more details on general playground planning and maintenance considerations.

By following the guidelines of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, along with reputable safety advocates like the National Safety Council and trusted trade associations like IPEMA, industry professionals, their customers and communities can work together to create safer playgrounds for all children and contribute to decreasing related injuries.

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