Before you send those drawings out for bid, take another look. It's true you've included the resilient surfaces, swings, climbers, and slides. These are all big-ticket items and they've been designed with safety in mind. So if you've included such items in your plans and specifications, you're well on your way to having a safe playground. But if you think that the big-ticket items can handle all of the safety issues, hold onto those drawings for a few more minutes. Here are some other items to include that will make your new playground safer.
Did you add fencing around the perimeter? Not every dog is a gentle friend to man and not every child feels comfortable around dogs—especially strays. If a stray wanders through the playground area, that's usually a good time to load up the car and head for home, but when you add fencing you can avoid this situation entirely.
And by the way, keeping dogs out is only half the battle; keeping children it can also have its advantages. For instance, children playing catch on the playground may seem like innocent fun but if a ball is missed, it can roll into a street.
And children who are actively engaged in play aren't always likely to look both ways before rushing to retrieve an errant toy. Adding a perimeter fence can also help to avoid this situation. And while you're at it, it might not be a bad idea to plan for parking bollards between the parking lot and the play area either.
Another danger to children can be intense sun exposure. The Skin Cancer Foundation tells us that one blistering sunburn in childhood may double a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life. While it would be great if trees could shade every playground, confined urban areas don't always have room for trees. This is why fabric structures provide such an excellent alternative, protecting young skin from direct ultra-violet rays while shading equipment enough so that it doesn't become too hot to the touch. The other great benefit of fabric structures is that they add color, texture and numerous possibilities for the designer's imagination.
At times during the design process, the designer thinks that it might be nice to include a few items that the client didn't have on his list of needs: fencing and fabric structures or even benches for that matter. But some clients might consider such items too extravagant on their limited budgets, unless, that is, the designer can take a different approach and promote such items as added safety features. Once a client understands that a certain feature can not only add to the aesthetics but also to the safety of the play experience, he or she will be more likely to make the investment.
So how about trash receptacles? Trash, glass, rusted metal, or bits of concrete or asphalt can find their way into playground areas, and such items can cause serious injuries if tripped over or fallen on. It's best to have parents or children inspect the area before beginning play. If they find such items, they can dispose of them properly. For dedicated parents who arrive at the playground with gardening gloves, trash receptacles can even provide a place to put poisonous plants after a short weeding session.
The designer should be sure to supply trash receptacles that can be anchored to one spot though. Receptacles that turn or roll over in the play area don't invite anyone to spend time there.
One other thing you might add to your list of safety enhancements may not even seem like a safety enhancement at first. But for many children, adding a bench can mean adding an element of safety. Without a bench, parents may feel inconvenienced when their children ask to visit a playground. Either the parents won't let the child go or they will simply let him go alone.
Without supervision, children who play and get hurt have to rely on other children or perhaps strangers for help. But when the designer adds a bench, it becomes just as easy for the parent to sit there for a half-hour and read the paper as it is for him to stay home and do the same.
Benches, trash cans, fabric structures, fences—there may be more here than you need, and too many elements within a confined site could be more of a hindrance than an aid to active play.
Only the circumstances that present themselves will be able
to tell you. But perhaps the most important safety enhancement that you include won't add a penny to the budget. Before sending those drawings out, ask yourself if you've provided good lines of sight. A safe playground is a playground where people near and far have an opportunity to observe children at play. That simply means an unobstructed view for those who live nearby or those who drive and walk past. The more eyes paying attention to what is happening on the playground, the more likely that if an accident does happen, others will be there to lend a hand.