Playgrounds

Child playground safety

Playground design

Playground equipment manufacturers’ responsibilities

Owners’ and maintenance organisations’ responsibilities

Structural requirements set for playground equipment

General playground safety

 

Child playground safety

Playgrounds are children’s workplaces. Therefore it is important that they are safe and appropriate for their purpose.


Playgrounds and playground equipment are services and products that fall under the scope of application of the Consumer Safety Act. According to the Act, they must not pose a risk to users. Therefore the safety of children’s playgrounds is highly important. Those responsible for playground safety are the manufacturers of playground equipment and the operators that maintain and own playgrounds. Their responsibility does not, however, release parents and guardians from their responsibility to ensure and monitor children’s safety.


There are more than 11,000 publicly accessible playgrounds in Finland. Consumer safety legislation applies not only to municipal playgrounds but also playgrounds located on hospital or housing company grounds as well as their individual pieces of playground equipment.


Playground design

Safety issues including the following must already be taken into consideration in the playground design stage:

  • playground positioning in relation to other functions taking place in the area (incl. roads, water bodies, physical exercise facilities);
  • the safety and positioning of the playground equipment;
  • access route and passageway safety;
  • sufficiency of lighting, if provided;
  • enabling of maintenance and servicing, etc.

 
Playground equipment manufacturers’ responsibilities

Playground equipment manufacturers are responsible for the safety of the equipment manufactured by them. Manufacturers must be aware of the hazards and risks involved with the equipment produced by them. Manufacturers must familiarise themselves with the requirements set for equipment and any changes taking place in them. Equipment must be manufactured in conformity with relevant regulations, and manufacturers must provide instructions for installation and maintenance personnel. The same safety principles must also be complied with in the manufacture of self-made playground equipment.


Owners’ and maintenance organisations’ responsibilities
 

Playground owners and maintenance organisations must make sure that only safe playground equipment is acquired for use. It should be made clear as early as in the tender invitation stage that the playground equipment to be purchased must meet the requirements set in the relevant safety standards, SFS-EN 1176 and SFS-EN 1177.


Equipment must be installed correctly and in accordance with the instructions provided by the manufacturer. The structural safety of the equipment must be ensured throughout its useful life.


Sufficient equipment maintenance and servicing as well as regular equipment inspections must also be ensured through measures including the following self-control measures:

  • inspecting and maintaining equipment and their parts in accordance with the instructions provided by the manufacturer and in compliance with the minimum inspection and maintenance intervals specified by the manufacturer;
  • drawing up an inspection and maintenance plan for each playground and keeping a log of equipment inspections and maintenance; remembering that even though a piece of playground equipment may be compliant with the requirements set at the time of installation, it may become dangerous if not maintained or inspected often enough;
  • regularly checking any impacts of factors such as winter conditions or vandalism and addressing any problems;
  • ensuring, where possible, that the equipment also remains in good condition in the winter if the equipment in practice is accessible by children throughout the year, including by removing snow and ice from any platforms and steps of climbing frames; considering, if necessary, the removal of playground equipment from use for the winter to eliminate any risks involved in wintertime use.


If a piece of equipment is found to be unsafe, access to it by children and other people must be prevented. This applies to situations including where the installation of a piece of equipment has not been fully completed, the impact-attenuating materials have not yet been installed or a defect posing a risk has been detected in conjunction with maintenance work or an inspection.


The maintenance organisation must also monitor any changes in the requirements set for the equipment and, if necessary, take measures to make the equipment safe.


Structural requirements set for playground equipment

There are specific European standards for the safety requirements of playground equipment. These have been formulated in cooperation between equipment manufacturers, surveillance authorities and consumer organisations. Some of the technical requirements have been agreed upon in response to accidents or near-miss situations.


The European standards considering the safety requirements of playground equipment have been compiled in a handbook (No 143) available from the SFS. The handbook can be used by organisations such as equipment manufacturers, playground maintenance organisations (municipalities and housing companies) and surveillance authorities. 

Requirements set for playground equipment:

  • The structures must be such that children cannot, while playing on them, be strangled and that their head, body, legs or fingers cannot be trapped.
  • To prevent falls, playground equipment must be equipped with structures including sufficiently high and strong handrails, guardrails or barriers.
  • Ground surfacing must be made of impact-attenuating materials, usually sand or protective surfacing, to reduce injuries from falls.
  • There must be enough free space around the playground equipment, and there may not be items such as stones or exposed roots near them.

General playground safety

In addition to the safety aspects related to playground equipment covered by the standards, safety is also affected by issues including:

  • equipment positioning;
  • the positioning of the playground area in relation to other functions (transport routes and water bodies).
  • fencing of the area and prevention of children from leaving the fenced area;
  • vegetation in the area (no poisonous plants allowed).

It should also be remembered that the playground must not be used for the storage of items that do not belong to there, including parts of equipment that has not been assembled.


The playground must be fenced if there are features such as transport routes or water bodies nearby that are hazardous to children.

The fence must be:

  • at least 120 cm high and also remain high enough in winter conditions;
  • dense enough and have such a structure that does not inspire climbing; for example, there must be no supports inside the fence that could be used as steps for climbing;
  • around 10 cm from the ground at the bottom to prevent children from passing underneath it.


The gate locking mechanism must be such that cannot be opened by a child. For more instructions on how to construct fences and gates see guidelines such as those provided on day care safety planning by STAKES and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.


Playgrounds should  also be equipped with an identification sign.


The safety of playground equipment intended for the private property of individual consumers is covered by the Toy Safety Act (1154/2011) and the Government Decree issued pursuant to the Act (1218/2011) as well as the standards pertaining to toy safety. The safety and structural requirements of such equipment are less stringent than those that apply to playground equipment intended for public use. Therefore such equipment should not be placed in locations including those where they are subjected to heavy use, such as public playgrounds or housing company grounds.


Detailed instructions for playground design can be found (in Finnish) in the RT Building Information File RT 89-10749 Outdoor play areas.