Indoor and Outdoor Play Equipment Safety

Their growing up years should be fun – for them and you!

My wife and I had gone on a date, leaving our 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son at home with a sitter. When we returned, we were surprised to see our neighbor in our home. He was a doctor. He immediately assured us everything was OK. Our son was a bit scraped up, but there was no need for a trip to the emergency room.

Accidents do happen, but this was no accident. No, it was a preventable injury. Without thinking, we had left the treadmill plugged in. While we were away, our son got on it, turned it on and went for a ride!

In a series of four articles, I wrote about hazards in the kitchen, bathroom, living rooms and garage. In this article I cover safety considerations for indoor toys and outdoor play sets. Our part as parents and grandparents in keeping our children safe is primarily a 2-step process – inspection and supervision.

1. Inspection – make sure things are safe for your children

The first step is to carefully inspect all your children’s toys. Here are some guidelines to help you.

Indoor toys

  • Start by inspecting all the toys they currently have. We have so many toys in our house, so we rotate them every so often – some are out for them to play with and some are stashed away in a closet.
  • Only allow your children to play with toys recommended for their age group. Toys for older children might have small parts or small removable parts that could be a choking hazard for younger children.
  • Periodically inspect toys for wear and tear. Throw damaged toys in the trash.
  • Make sure battery covers are secured, not loose or missing.
  • Inspect used toys before letting your children play with them. When in doubt, throw them out (the toys, not the children!).
  • All batteries are dangerous and should be kept out of the reach of children. Smaller batteries, especially those that are commonly called “button” batteries, are a choking hazard. Not only that, they can be deadly if swallowed.

small batteries are choke hazards and deadly

  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions when assembling toys and indoor play sets. Instructions are not for “a last resort”.

Outdoor play sets

  • New out-of-the-box play sets
    • Assemble all play sets according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Do not omit any part of the process.
    • Contact the manufacturer if you have any questions or encounter any problems. Don’t guess.
    • Periodically inspect the play set for loose, missing, corroded, or damaged parts. Repair or replace as needed.
  • Used play sets: hand-me-downs, Craigslist, garage sales
    • Inspect used equipment for loose, missing, corroded, or damaged parts.
    • Before installing or using used equipment, check online for a product manual. Carefully inspect the equipment for evidence of improper assembly.
  • New or used
      • Sharp or protruding hardware (nuts, bolts, etc.) or parts should be protected to help prevent cuts, scrapes, head injuries, etc.
      • Replace cracked swing seats to avoid pinch injuries.
      • Check wooden play sets for cracks that can cause splinters.
      • Allow plenty of room around the play set so children do not impact other objects – fence, shed, other equipment, other children, for example.
      • A large percent of injuries is from falls. Play sets should be set on a soft surface that is at least 12 inches thick. Opinions vary on what types of protective materials are best. It is my understanding that shredded tires, 12 inches thick, are best.
      • Openings in equipment should be less than 4 inches or greater than 9 inches to help prevent head entrapment.
      • Repair or remove damaged cargo type nets.


2. Supervision – make sure your children are safe

As parents and grandparents, it’s not enough to make sure things are safe for our children and grandchildren. We must also make sure they are safe. We do this by supervising them. Now, supervising children does not guarantee there will never be any injuries. It does, however, minimize the risks and hopefully keep you out of the emergency room.

Indoors and outdoors

  • Always be aware of what your children are doing. The smaller they are, the more closely they should be watched.
  • Make sure younger siblings do not have access to older siblings’ toys that might be unsafe for them.
  • Teach rules to your children early and make sure they follow them

Indoors

toys are trip and fall hazards

  • Teach children to put their toys away so they don’t become trip hazards. Toddlers aren’t too young to start learning.
  • Most children have more toys than they know what to do with. Breakable objects such as drinking glasses, coffee cups and knick-knacks are not toys. Remotes are not toys, either. They should be kept out of the reach of children because they often have battery covers that can easily be removed, exposing children to the covers, screws and batteries.
  • New toys come in plastic bags, are secured to the carton with screws, or are held in place with zip ties. Keep plastic bags (suffocation hazard), screws and small packaging straps (choking hazards) out of the reach of little children.
  • Be careful with large trash bags (suffocation hazard) that are out during birthdays and Christmases. You know – the ones in which we throw all the wrapping paper, boxes and other trash.

Outdoors

  • Adhere to the age and weight recommendations set forth by the manufacturer of play sets. Your 3-year-old will be 5 before you know it, so don’t rush things. Falls from monkey bars and swings are all too common.
  • Be aware of play set platform openings (areas with no guard rails). There will usually be at least one, otherwise how will children access the platform. Pictured below is the Lifetime Adventure Tower. Besides the opening for the slide, it has two other openings from the top platform. One is for accessing the platform by climbing up curved bars. The other is for accessing the platform  by climbing up a rock wall. Our granddaughter is now 5 years old and I still watch her ever so closely when she is on the platform. We do not allow our 2-year-old grandson on the platform.

haazardous platform opening

  • Teach children to stay clear of swings. Show them a “safe zone” on both sides of swings.
  • Play equipment gets hot fast, whether it’s cloudy or full sun. Be sure to alert your children.
  • Have children wear appropriate clothing. Long pants are best for going down slides.
  • Tennis shoes, sneakers, athletic footwear – whatever you call them, have your children wear them on play sets. In my pinion, sandals, flip-flops and bare feet are not appropriate.
  • Periodically check all play equipment for insect nests. I have found wasp nests under platforms, slides and roofs. Treat as needed. If you see a wasp flying around play equipment, that’s usually a clue that either a nest is present or one soon will be.
  • Periodically check the surface area for fire ants, and treat as needed.

A safe home is a fun home

Providing a safe environment for your children isn’t difficult. Apply the tips listed above, mix in a little common sense along with all your love. Stay a “step ahead of the game” by trying to anticipate the outcome of your children’s actions. Don’t forget to help your friends by sharing this post.

Based on your experience with your children and/or grandchildren, what tips or advice can you share that would help each of us? Please leave your comments below and I will reply as soon as possible.

Kind Regards,

Rick

SaferHomeNow.com

Comments 10

  1. Hi Rick,

    I’ve been an engineer in toys industry on product development and quality management for most of my working life. One point to add to you: choking is the number one hazard, besides button cells, their twin brother super strong magnets are high dangerous too.

    Thanks for sharing this great article.

    Brian

    1. Post
      Author

      Brian,

      Thank you for your comments. I’ll gladly add that choking is the number one hazard. And I do recall, now that you mentioned it, that refrigerator magnets are dangerous because the magnet can come loose. Not sure if they’re the same as the super strong ones you mentioned, but I’ll do some more research and add it in. Can I give you credit in my article for these points? If so, how would you like me to do it?

      Best Regards,

      Rick

  2. Very young kids and pets explore their new world in a similar way: through taste. And especially the child – through imitating everyone. These safety tips will go a long way towards keeping them same. Though, I can’t imagine any kid leaving childhood unscathed.

    1. Post
      Author

      Tina,

      Thank you for taking time to comment. You’re right, Tina, I’m not aware of any child going through childhood without bumps and bruises at the very least.

      And thank you for the encouraging words.

      Best Regards,

      Rick

  3. I had a very bad experience with my younger brother who was left unsupervised. This left him with bruises from falling from a double bed.
    This made me very cautious about letting children even sleeping at elevated heights.

    I like these tips because they cover many important aspects such as inspecting children’s toys box before giving them to play with.

    Great article

    1. Post
      Author

      Thabo,

      I’m sorry to hear about the bad experience you had with your younger brother. I hope everything turned out alright. At least one good thing came out of it – you’re now very cautious. I’m sure there are those who would say we can be over cautious, and to some extent I agree, but I personally would not be critical of anyone who some might think is overly cautious.

      Thanks for sharing and thank you for your encouraging comments.

      Best Regards,

      Rick

  4. Great article Rick, inspection is key for any product you purchase, especially when it’s related to children. Unfortunately, sometimes that step gets overlooked at times and accidents happen. Hopefully more parents will read this and take your advice. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks, Will, for your comments. I speak from experience – five years ago we accepted a large, used plastic playhouse type thing from my brother-in-law. I didn’t look it over all that well, so I didn’t see the crack in one of the seats. Our granddaughter was two years old at the time and got her leg pinched in it. My wife patched her up and patched the cracked seat, and all was well. We ended up giving it away because it took up too much space.

      Thank you for your kind words. They are encouraging, to say the least.

      Best Regards,

      Rick

  5. Eminently sensible words here, especially with regards to constant supervision. Plenty of parents aren’t closely watching their kids these days.

    So, there is a large part of me that thinks children are not served well by all the safety regulations placed around them.

    Our local playground is covered with ridiculous nets and fences, which never happened when I was a kid, and I am only in my mid-thirties. You’d have to see it to understand what I mean. But I’m sure you catch my drift. Children were given much more personal responsibility by society until very recently and parents were watching everything like hawks.

    A careful parent knows what their child can do. Obviously a careless mobile-phone obsessive parent may need to rely more on a bubble-wrapped environment.

    1. Post
      Author

      Tony,

      I agree with you completely. Another sad thing is everyone wants to sue for everything. I’m 59 and back in the day a broken arm was all part of being a kid. Now attorneys get involved. And something else that makes me sad is how kids behave at fast food restaurants that have indoor playgrounds. There’s a particular restaurant, whose name I won’t mention because I love the place, in which moms gather and talk, letting their kids run wild.

      Well, I’d better stop here because you’ve pretty much said it all. Thanks for taking time to comment and thank you for your insight!

      Best Regards,

      Rick

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