Having an outdoor playset is probably one of the most enjoyable presents you can give to your kids. It ensures hours of pure, fun-filled entertainment, sans any of the drama and hypertension that most modern day toys come packaged with.
On the other hand, swing sets provide a new opportunity for accidents to happen, and if you’re not careful, they will. That is why we’re here: to give you a detailed look at all the safety issues that could arise from owning a playset and what you can do to prevent them. Keep your children safe and enjoying their childhood with the carefree and irreplaceable adventure of their own outdoor wooden playset by following this easy to read guide on swing set safety.
Before you install your swing set, it’s important to prep for success. Use these pointers to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone:
1. Choose the Right Surface Material
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), approximately 60-70% of all playground injuries occur from falls, which is so unfortunate because these injuries can easily be avoided by simply placing suitable surface material under and around the swing sets to soften the blow. This can be poured-in place rubber, shredded rubber, mulch, wood chips, sand, or rubber mats. Fine material should be at least 6” deep but many recommend up to 12”. A good trick to see how much surface material you’ve lost over time (due to wear and tear and the elements) is to make a small mark on the leg of your swing set immediately after pouring in the material. When the mark is visibly higher than your bedding, it’s time to put on a new layer.
2. Clear the Area
Clear away any obstructions from the area within at least 6 feet on all sides. This includes fences, tree branches, bushes, rocks, walls, or anything that can cause harm or obstruct the proper usage of the equipment.
3. Prepare the Ground
Finally, make sure the swing set is installed on a flat surface. Level areas will ensure that the set is even and not at risk of tumbling over. When installing playground sets on their own, parents need to use strong anchors to secure the pieces to the ground so an overly boisterous youngster doesn’t topple the entire structure.
The size and spacing of your playset is another important safety factor to consider. You want to make sure there is enough room to maneuver but not enough so that your child will get stuck, caught off-balance, or simply slip through the cracks.
1. Safely space your rails
Pay close attention to the spacing between guard rails, the rungs of a ladder, and the steps. In general, proper spacing should be less than 3.5” or more than 9” for these areas to ensure there are no hazardous spaces where children can get stuck.
2. Choose the right deck height
Height of platforms and decks should also be in line with the children using them. This means that if you have a young child (preschool aged for example), you should have a lower deck. Older children can manage safely with a higher platform.
A good rule of thumb is to keep older kids’ playsets around the 6’ height, while smaller children should play on swing sets measuring 4’ in height. Of course, all platforms require a safety barrier to prevent falling in case of unsteady footing, and these protective barriers should not have any foot holes or areas where little feet can climb.
3. Measure the distance between swings
Swings should be measured at least 8” apart from one another and no less than 8” off the ground to prevent collisions. If you have babies or toddlers, make sure to have appropriate swings for these ages, with the necessary safety straps and bars in place.
MATERIALS & FINISHES
The way the set is constructed is also really important for safety. Plywood that is glued together is not only going to fall apart in no time, it is a major safety hazard that could put your kids in danger at any moment. Here are a few tips:1. Invest in a quality set
Paying more initially for a quality wooden swing set is probably the best safety insurance you can get. After all, something that’s going to wear out, fall apart, or decay on you in a few short years is just a waste of money. Parents who are concerned for their children’s safety will spend a little more on the outset so that the structural integrity and material quality are superior.2. Use pressure treated wood
The most decay and rot-resistant wood you can find is premium preserved pine that has been pressure treated. There are some questions surrounding pressure-treated wood, but this is primarily due to a lack of knowledge on the subject. Here's the scoop:
Old pressure treatments used chromated copper arsenate to strengthen the wood. When it was discovered that this arsenic-soaked wood was quite dangerous, responsible playground equipment manufacturers stopped using it altogether.
Today, pressure-treated wood is made using chromium or copper, neither of which contain the dangerous arsenic agents. Studies have proven the new method safe for children and animals to use. Additionally, a sealant or coating will alleviate any worry since skin isn’t coming in contact with the material either way.
In addition to preventing decay and rot, pressure-treated wood is better at preventing carpenter bees from gathering on your playset. Nobody wants their kids playing on a swing set with a beehive hidden in the fort, and pressure-treated wood is best for preventing that from happening. Carpenter bees prefer sweeter smelling natural woods like cedar and redwood.
3. Properly coat your playset elements
Each piece of your playset should be properly coated for maximum durability as well as for safety. Metal chains, ropes, adjoining cuffs, and of course the wood itself, each have specific material that will keep these parts safe, secure, and durable. For example, clear wood sealer should be applied each year to maintain the finish and keep the wood safe.4. Sand wood to avoid splinters
Wood can cause splinters that are not only painful but can be dangerous depending on the depth of the injury and the sensitivity of the child’s skin. Ensure that playsets are always sanded down so the surface is smooth to the touch. If you can, opt for rounded, sanded corners as well.5. Pick solid hardware
The hardware used and the way the hardware is used is going to significantly affect the safety and durability of your playground equipment. Use recessed hardware that is sunk into the wood (so nothing is sticking out of the wood) and that is made from resilient metal materials. Plastic can break easily and wears away after a short time. The countersunk bolts will prevent clothing from snagging on the hardware as well. Oh, and always use bolts not staples or nails. They’re the strongest option.6. Choose your beam size wisely
You want a strong structure that won’t tip over with heavy winds or rugged play. Opt for solid 4x4 beams for the support structure (i.e. the legs) and A frame. Avoid 2x4 wood panels at all costs, as these will snap under pressure. The swing beam (the horizontal beam that holds the swings) should be even thicker, a solid 4x6 beam.
While it should go without saying, there are still many parents who do not understand the importance of constant supervision of their children while they play on playground equipment. Some caregivers are lulled into a sense of complacency by the frequent usage of their swing set, and often even strict parents will eventually loosen their restraints after some time.
This is a serious mistake, and any caregiver must ensure constant supervision over their children without exception. All you need to do is walk away for a minute or two, and that’s when the accidents happen. Younger children will require more supervision, while older kids can be left to some degree to their own devices. Gauge your child’s activity and maturity level and supervise accordingly.
Upkeep is also important for ensuring that your playset is safe. Each year you should run through this checklist to see if anything requires maintenance:
- Run a preliminary check of the entire playground equipment’s surface. Check for loose bolts, frayed ropes, broken components, torn material, or sharp edges. Care for each of these accordingly.
- Sand down edges and corners that have become jagged. This will prevent splinters and keep the wood from flaking apart.
- Seal the wood with a clear sealant or wood stain to preserve the integrity of the wood.
- Tighten any loose bolts, oil movable parts, and replace broken couplings, hinges, or bolts. Check that all “S” hooks are securely closed (if they aren’t upon installation, close them before you let your kids climb up).
- Replace any parts that have broken or torn such as awnings, ladders, slides, or swings.
- Clean the plastic surfaces with mild soap and water. This will not only prevent damage from the debris but it will make for a nicer atmosphere for your children to play in.
Many homeowners are not aware of the significant effect having playground equipment has on their home insurance payments. According to most policies, outdoor playsets will raise your monthly payments due to the risk factors they create such as sprained ankles or neck or head injuries that can occasionally occur from unattended play.
CPSC Requirements & Safety Talks
Additionally, check that the swing set you are looking into meets the safety requirements as set out by the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) and the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). At the beginning of a new outdoor season, it’s also a good idea to talk to your kids about playground safety. Remind them of the rules:
- Wear clothing that doesn’t have strings or other items that can be pulled on by the equipment (flowing skirts, loose zippers, hoods, drawstrings, pull ties).
- Never jump off of the swing in midair.
- No pushing at the top of the slide.
- Don’t walk in front of or behind a moving swing.
- Only slide down the slide with your own body (not a toy with wheels or objects held in your hand).
- Whatever other safety rules your family abides by.
By following these guidelines you can keep your family happy, healthy, and safe this swing set season. Happy swinging!
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