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                                              Hazards on Playgrounds & Inflatables

Playground Hazards

           Click on me for daily playground safety checklist PDF

Hazards and risks are present on all playgrounds. It is impossible to remove all risk from playgrounds as risk is part of our every day life. Risk is associated with hazards and by removing the hazards or by controlling the hazards on playgrounds and playground equipment, you reduce the risk of serious injury. 

Playground hazards for the most part can be easily identified with a little bit of common sense. Consulting with a playground safety professionals will ensure a more thorough result for hazard identification and elimination. Oversight of risks and hazards may lead to serious injury or death and involve litigation.

Do not allow children to play on playground equipment dressed in clothing which can become caught or tangled on the playground equipment especially hooded jackets, jewelry, scarfs, ties, bicycle helmets and neck bags etc. Many children have died as a result of strangulation from these items. Hooded jackets have been recalled by international consumer safety agencies.

The following are ways in which risks and hazards can be reduced on playgrounds:


Children should always be supervised on playground equipment especially in an early childhood development environment. Playground equipment must be used by early childhood practitioners to assess and to help with the development of children. Playground equipment should never be used to entertain children in  the absence of supervision or child care provider. adequate supervision can reduce the risk of serious injury significantly.

Training of child supervisors will ensure proper supervision and provide the child care provider with the necessary skills to be able to supervise more effectively. The supervising childcare provider should be able to prevent rough play, over crowding of equipment, dangerous use of the play equipment
such as jumping from swings including the play equipment.

  Safety Surface or Impact Surface

Serious brain injury and death occur from children falling from playground equipment. An impact or safety surface absorbs the impact of the child s head or body when they fall from the playground equipment reducing the severity of the injury. Very high equipment and non-complaint safety surfaces or lack there of have very high risk or serious brain injury and death. Playgrounds which do not have a safety or impact surface are not complaint with the SANS 51177 standard.  All  installers  of safety or  impact surface must provide a certificate of compliance with the SANS 51177.
Any playground equipment higher than 600 mm from the ground surface should have an impact or safety surface. Playground equipment with an approved safety or impact surface should not be higher than 1,5 meters high, in an early childhood development environment.

Paved bricks, black pitch surfaces (tar), grass, concrete and compacted sand or other hard surfaces are not acceptable.

  Inspection of Playground Equipment

Prior to allowing children onto playgrounds and playground equipment an inspection of the equipment and the playground environment should be performed.
All playground inspections should be preformed by trained staff members or certified and registered playground safety inspectors or auditors with the Playground Safety Institute.

Annual Safety audits or inspections must be carried out by certified and registered playground safety inspectors or auditors. Unqualified or certified persons inspecting playground equipment can be held responsible for any deaths or injuries which result in oversight of the person inspecting the playground equipment.

Contact the Playground Safety  Institute to check  if the person inspecting your playground equipment is registered and certified.

daily inspection should cover the following:
  • Any loose or broken playground equipment should be replaced immediately.
  • Parts of the playground equipment which have excessive wear and tear or friction should be checked daily, especially swing mechanisms on the cross bars which do not have frictionless mechanisms. Most playground swings have round rings or s-hooks which cause friction (metal on metal) and eventually break. Metal on metal connections for swings are not acceptable. Tyre swings seats or any other kind of swing seat which are about to wear through should be replaced before it breaks. Hard wooden swing seats or metal swing seats are not complaint with the Safety Standard SANS 51176 and not acceptable.
  • Make sure all playground equipment is stable and cannot topple over. Equipment must be secured to the ground according to the SANS 51176 safety standard. Free standing playground equipment is not acceptable.
  • Movable soccer posts or goals must be pegged or staked into th ground appropriately.
  • Protruding nails, screws and bolts should be removed or made flush with the surface of the equipment. Protruding bolts should be countersunk especially on wooden play structures.
  • Check for any debris such as glass and other materials which could cause harm. Hypodermic needles and razor blades have been found on playground and playground equipment as a result of vandalism.
  • Make sure all ropes and chains are secured at both ends so as to prevent strangulation. The ropes and chains should conform to the SANS 51176 safety standard.
  • Ensure metal slides are not too hot by cooling them down with water prior to allowing children on the slides. Summer time poses higher risk of  burns from the hot surfaces.
  • Make sure cargo or climbing nets are maintained and there are no loose ends. Cargo nets are strangulation hazards. Any internal total measurement between 430 mm and 712 mm is a critical measurement and is a hazard. The size of the net should be very small so as to not allow the head of a child go through  or large enough to allow free access of the head. The risk of strangulation still remains no matter the size of the net and children who have access to these nets should be supervised at all times whilst playing on this apparatus.
climbing net.

Other areas of concern which require more qualified persons to evaluate are as follows:
  • Pinch and crush points on playground equipment
  • Head and neck entrapments areas on playground equipment.
  • Body and limb entrapments areas
  • Finger entrapments
  • Safety barrier, hand rails and guardrail requirements
  • Impact or safety surface compliance with safety standard SANS 51177
  • Playground equipment compliance with safety standard SANS 51176
These risks or hazards can only be determined with playground safety inspection probes and gauges.
Training and skill evaluation are required to use these specialized inspection probes. Gauges and probes have to be calibrated on a yearly basis. The person inspecting your playground equipment must provide a calibration certificate from an approved testing laboratory.

  Inflatable hazards

Click here for inflatable safety guidelines PDF

Inflatable amusement rides or devices (jumping castles,bounce houses, moonwalks, gladiator challenges, climbing walls, parachute rockets, zorb balls and mechanical bull rides etc) are becoming popular attractions at events all over South Africa.

It is up to event organizers to ensure the safety of the public on these inflatables. This includes events held at school fun days and charity or school fund raisers. The Playground Safety Institute together with the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) published inflatables safety standards for South Africa 2011. The safety standard is SANS 54960 Safety Standards for the manufacture and operation of inflatable amusement rides or devices.

The following stake holders must ensure compliance with the safety standard:
  • Inflatable manufacturers and suppliers
  • Inflatable hire service providers
  • Events safety coordinators and organizers
  • School event organizers, management and staff
The is high risk of fractures, spinal injury, head injury (brain damage) and death.

The causes of these injuries are as follows:
  • No supervision or adequate supervision being provided
  • Users of the inflatables somersaulting down giant slides or from inflatables
  • Users falling onto other users climbing up the ladders which lead to the top of giant slides
  • Inflatables collapsing with too many users on the inflatables (over crowding) especially giant slides etc
  • Electrocution from electrical cables supplying inflatable air blowers/fans
  • Users colliding into each other.
  • Inflatables becoming airborne due to not being tethered or staked properly.
  • Inflatables being operated in high winds
  • Safety standard not incorporated into the design and manufacture of inflatables
  • Inflatable not being operated properly (see safety guidelines for inflatables)
  • Inflatables deflating suddenly from power supply being cut off suddenly
  • Inflatables bursting at stitched seams from wear and tear or defect of seams in manufacturing process.
  • No crash mats or safety mats being provided around apron or open sides of inflatables
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