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Backyard Playtime Safety

Many families this time of year think about adding playground equipment, or or other kid-friendly play and seating structures around their properties. Whenever there are children in the household, or children who visit often, it is especially important to think about the following safety tips.

  1. Plan Ahead. One of the best ways to stay safe is to start with some careful planning. Think about the space where you'll place the play equipment, your child's age, even where the sun will be shining. An article on the suggests, "Make sure toddler swing sets are at least 2 feet above ground (so kids can't use it on their own), at least 6 feet away from any building or fences, and in a shaded area, so that surfaces won't get too hot to the touch."
  2. girl playing on swingAvoid Pressure Treated Wood. Never construct or buy playground equipment made with pressure-treated wood containing chromated copper arsenate, also known as CCA. Why? The Consumer Product Safety Commission explains why CCA is dangerous here. You'll know pressure treated wood by its greenish tint. There are other chemicals that can be used to treat wood, but they are still rare and more expensive, so CCA has been the principal chemical used to pressure treat wood. Generally, if the play equipment has not been constructed with redwood or cedar, then most likely it is CCA pressure treated wood. Good alternatives include untreated woods like cedar or redwood, and non-wood alternatives such as plastics, metal, and composite materials (like Trex).
  3. Inspect Your Equipment. Always check the play equipment for any sharp points or edges (screws that stick out, rough wood etc.). Check the equipment often as conditions can change. Make sure equipment is firmly anchored in the ground.
  4. Bigger is not always better. While we may be dreaming of a large play-scape to really wow our kids, remember the higher the equipment the harder the fall. Research shows equipment taller than 6 feet doubles the possibility of injury.
  5. Avoid Dangerous Sand. OK, I had never heard this before, but apparently, not all play sand is safe. In fact, the soft, fine sand that is marketed as "play sand," is one some say we should avoid. According to, many times, play sand is made of crushed rock instead of beach or river sand. This crushed rock or crystalline silica is already a known carcinogen according to the EPA and OSHA. Some brands of sand even contain asbestos tremloite which can put you and kids at risk of lung cancer. Now I'm sure exposure levels have to be super high, but just knowing this, now I can't in good conscience use it. So avoid play sand that creates airborne dust that can be easily breathed by kids. Read up on Sandtasktic or SafeSand as possible alternatives (I'm still researching myself), but they seem to be the only brands that are silica and quartz-free.
  6. Create a Cushion. Falls account for more than 70 percent of playground injuries. During my research, again and again I was told the importance of the right ground cover for under play equipment to prevent this. The recommendation each time? Sand, pea gravel, rubber, or wood chips. Donna Thompson, Ph.D., and Director of the National Program for Playground Safety cautioned though that the cushion needs to be 9–12 inches deep in order to be effective. “Many people use the right materials, but not enough to truly cushion a fall,” she says.
  7. Practice Basic Safety. Children under 3 should be in toddler swings with support on all sides and safety straps and children under 6 should never play unattended (those older should be checked on frequently).