Playground Equipment Safety Bulletin

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					        Playground Equipment Safety Bulletin
                                                                  Number 12
                                                        Revised February 2011
                                     Prepared by Capital Programs & Asset Services

DECS Playground Equipment Safety Bulletin - Number 12                          page 1
Background                                                                                        2
Local management responsibilities - General advice                                                3
Fact Sheets                                                                                           3
Hot weather hazard: Burns from rubber play surfaces                                                   3
Disability Access                                                                                     3
Funding                                                                                               4
Australian standard for playground equipment                                                          4
Maintenance and inspection                                                                            4
Soft fall materials - selection and maintenance                                                       5
Entrapment                                                                                            6
Shade Sails and Structures                                                                            6
Use of CCA Treated Timber (treated pine products)                                                     6

Playground Equipment Issues                                                                           8
    Horizontal Ladders (Monkey Bars)                                                                  8
    Overhead track rides* - Maintenance and safety                                                    9
    “Pig-tail” connectors for rotating / moving play equipment elements                               9
    Chain-suspended ‘clatter bridges’                                                                 10

References                                                                                            10

Playground equipment issues involving schools and pre-schools continue to demand the careful
attention of site leaders and facilities staff. This is the twelfth annual revision of a Bulletin which
was first prepared in 1998 to provide information to all DECS sites in support of local
management of playground safety.
A range of documents and references designed to assist leaders can be accessed on the
Capital Programs & Asset Services website,
The “Safety Inspection Checklist- Playgrounds”, produced by DECS Health and Safety Services,
is available from the Hazard Management section of the Occupational Health and Safety
website: It is recommended that sites use the Safety Inspection
Checklist in conjunction with this bulletin

For more information contact:
Capital Programs & Asset Services
Asset Support Centre:
1800 810 076 or

DECS Playground Equipment Safety Bulletin - Number 12                                        page 2
Local management responsibilities - general advice
General maintenance and regular hazard inspection of playgrounds is the ongoing
responsibility of each site.
Children’s play and the provision of space and equipment that supports a wide range of play-
based activity has always been an element of schools and centres. The general responsibility for
providing and maintaining the playground area rests with the principal and in an Early Childhood
Services Centre rests with the centre management committee.
Site leaders are required to keep playgrounds safe at all times to ensure student safety.
Playground equipment should be inspected using the “Safety Inspection Checklist- Playgrounds”
available from the Hazard Management section of the Occupational Health and Safety website: If any issues or actions are identified the use of the playground must
be suspended until corrective action is effected.
Sites should take time to teach children the playground safety rules to minimize injuries; this
could be included as part of a curriculum subject or as a sign posted near the playground.
General information about the design and operation of playgrounds is offered in the Playground
Manual (October 2007), published by the Office for Recreation and Sport, available under
‘publications’ on their website, Ph: 8416 6677

Fact sheets
A fact sheet has been prepared providing guidance for DECS school and preschool leaders on
the establishment, maintenance and responsibilities for playgrounds on DECS sites. The fact
sheet can be accessed at:
Special attention and consideration should be given to the requirement under the Disability
Discrimination Act (DDA) to make playgrounds accessible for children / students with disabilities
and the consequent responsibility of educational communities to ensure that this compliance is
fully met.

Hot weather hazard: Burns from rubber play surfaces
The Department of Education and Children’s Services has received advice from SA Health for
operators of schools, preschools, child care centres and other agencies providing outdoor play
experiences to children. On hot days, rubber play surfaces subjected to direct sunlight can heat
to a high temperature, placing children at risk of burn injuries.
One such surface in Adelaide was measured by SA Health to be 80 degrees, while the ambient
temperature was 38 degrees.
Assessing the risk is easy: If an adult cannot comfortably hold their hand on a surface for a slow
count of five, it is not a safe surface for children to play on.
During warmer weather, such testing should be conducted by a staff member before each play
session, as early morning coolness might give way to hotter conditions later in the day.
Sites must act immediately to ensure children do not access play surfaces and equipment that is
too hot. These practices should be supported by policies as soon as practicable.

Disability access
When developing a new, or upgrading an existing playground, sites must give
consideration to the access requirements for disabled persons (as described in the
Disability Discrimination Act). e.g. the selection of appropriate soft fall materials to allow
access by persons with limited mobility or those using wheelchairs and walking frames.

DECS Playground Equipment Safety Bulletin - Number 12                                        page 3
Funds for the provision of new playground equipment and to replace or upgrade existing
facilities are not generally provided from departmental works programs except where the
relocation of a school/centre or an existing playground is an essential element of a corporately
supported and funded construction project.
All costs associated with repair/maintenance services are the responsibility of the site. Site
leaders can utilise the services that are provided through the general government Facilities
Management (FM) Contracts. For more information see section: Maintenance and inspection.

Australian Standards for playgrounds
The Australian Standards for Playgrounds have been developed to provide guidelines for the
design, installation, maintenance and operation of playgrounds; however they are not intended
to provide totally risk free environments but to provide a minimum benchmark.
 AS 4685:2004 (Parts 1 to 6)
  This Standard sets out general safety requirements for playground equipment, and provides
  detailed safety requirements for specific pieces of playground equipment; including
   General safety requirements and test                    Runways (Part 4)
       methods (Part 1)                                     Carousels (Part 5)
   Swings (Part 2)                                         Rockers (Part 6)
      Slides (Part 3)
 AS/NZS 4422: 1996
  Playground Surfacing - Specifications, Requirements & Test Methods
 AS/NZS 4486.1: 1997
  Playgrounds and Playground Equipment - Part 1: Development, Installation, Inspection,
  Maintenance and Operation

Maintenance and inspection
The site’s FM can be used to provide maintenance and repair services in respect of
playgrounds; however, all costs for these services are the site’s responsibility. The
repair/maintenance services are accessed through the ‘FM Hotline’.
The facilities manager can also co-ordinate the provision of expert advice on design,
assessment and engineering services relating to playgrounds. The consultancy costs associated
with these services are the site’s responsibility. Because design and advisory services are
initiated as a project, a Project Commencement Form needs to be submitted through the Asset
Support Centre and can be downloaded from:
Kidsafe SA Inc. is acknowledged as the peak body in South Australia for child safety advice. The
Kidsafe Playground Safety Resource Kit was launched in May 2007 to provide information on
the requirements of the Australian Standard for Play Equipment. The Kit assists playground
providers with interpretation of the Standards. Kidsafe SA also offers a free of charge telephone
advisory service of a fee for service audit and inspection service.
Further information is available from Kidsafe SA telephone (08) 8161 6318 or at:

DECS Playground Equipment Safety Bulletin - Number 12                                   page 4
Soft fall materials - selection and maintenance
The Injury Surveillance and Control Unit of the SA Health Commission monitors all injuries that
present to SA public hospitals. Evidence collected over the last 10 years shows that two thirds of
all play equipment injuries are caused by falls from the equipment to the ground below.
The appropriate installation and maintenance of suitable impact absorbing (soft fall) surface
materials under playground equipment will significantly reduce the number and severity of
Specifications, requirements and testing methods for suitable materials are in Australian
Standards AS/NZS 4422:1996.
Disability Access
Access by people with a mobility disability is often impaired by the installation of certain
soft fall materials. Consideration should be given to the installation of an alternative
material for paths in and around the equipment.

What surfacing materials are suitable?
There is a range of natural surfaces such as varying grades of wood chips and many artificial
surfaces. Soft fall should be used under any piece of equipment or within the fall zone of the
play equipment. All surfaces will have varying levels of performance and cost. Many surfacing
materials have been tested in accordance with the revised (1997) Australian Standard. It is
always preferable to use tested products, even though similar, untested materials may also be

What materials are not recommended?
Hard surfaces should be used only for the provision of access, e.g. pathways, areas for some
ball games, for wheeled toy areas. Hard surfaces should not be used beneath any play
equipment. Concrete, bitumen, brick paving, compacted rubble and compacted sand or natural
surfaces are not suitable. Exposed rock and tree roots should be removed where possible, or
covered with the required layer of soft fall material.
Grass and bare natural surface is only acceptable for fall heights of less than 500mm. Sand is
not always a satisfactory impact absorbing surface. Only sand that has been tested to comply
with the Standards should be used, and frequent maintenance (raking and refilling) will be

How much ‘soft fall’ will be needed?
The volume of safe surfacing materials is calculated by measuring the total ground space
covered by the play equipment, and adding space on all sides for a distance as wide as the
maximum height of the equipment, (the Australian Standard required equipment to be a
maximum of 2.5 metres high.)
For example :
An item of equipment 2 metres x 3 metres in area and 2.5
metres high will need a surface area of ‘soft fall’ 7m x 8m = 56
square metres.

For a minimum acceptable depth of 300mm the volume of
material required will be 56 x 0.30 = (approx) 17 cubic metres.

The Example shows the calculation for an item of equipment 2.5 metres high (maximum
equipment height in accordance with the Australian Standard)

For further information consult Appendix B of the Office of Recreation and Sport Playground Manual:
DECS Playground Equipment Safety Bulletin - Number 12                                        page 5
The revised AS 4685 – 2004 specifies more rigorous testing procedures for determining
entrapment of children by playground equipment. The advice that was provided in previous
DECS Playground Safety Bulletins has been superseded by the new, and more detailed testing
standards. The testing procedures that were part of previous DECS information have been
simplified into a statement of general inspection procedures relating to entrapment.
Many playground safety inspection kits are available to the public. It is important that sites
ensure these products meet the Australian Standards for Playground Equipment,
AS 4685:2004 before making any purchases and inspections.
Children using playground equipment can slip between two adjacent fixed elements of a
structure, such as ladder rungs and horizontal bar units, and be trapped in open gaps.
The distance between fixed parts of playground equipment must be an adequate space to
prevent a child being trapped and held, particularly by the head.
Visually inspect all items of play equipment and the play environment and assess the distance
between any parts which could trap a child by the head/neck (see “Equipment” in the checklist at

Shade sails and structures
The Department of Education and Children’s Services supports the provision of shade on sites,
and encourages schools and centres to develop their own policies and programs to reduce
avoidable sun exposure for children under their care.
Shade sail structures comprising fabric sail material supported on tension wires must not be
used on DECS sites, they provide the least effective shade (due to their general triangular
shape), and the covering materials have been subject to regular damage/vandalism and
inappropriate use on sites.
Sites are referred to the Shade Structures Protocol for more detailed information, which can be
accessed at:

Use of CCA treated timber (treated pine products)
The South Australian Department of Health has provided some guiding information to DECS.
The following is a summary of the key elements.

    The most significant risks from the use of CCA timbers are associated with the inhalation of
    fine CCA particles generated during mechanical activities such as power sawing, drilling or
    machining of CCA treated timbers, inhaling smoke from CCA treated timber combustion and
    contact with CCA liquors from freshly treated CCA treated timber.

    The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has stated that… “based on a consideration
    of the exposure to CCA treated timber products, in particular children’s play equipment,
    there was no compelling evidence from the available data to conclude that there was likely
    to be an unacceptable risk to public health from exposure to arsenic from CCA treated
    timber. Based on this finding, there would not seem to be any good justification for taking
    immediate action to remove existing CCA treated play ground structures”. The full TGA
    report can be found at:

    enHealth Council, (a Department of Health body), advocates as a suitable and simple
    precautionary measure, that children should wash their hands after playing on or near CCA
    treated structures.

DECS Playground Equipment Safety Bulletin - Number 12                                     page 6
DECS therefore advises that:
     There is no need to remove or paint current structures, equipment or furniture built from
       CCA timber.
     Schools and preschools should choose appropriate alternatives to CCA as part of routine
       upgrades and maintenance when replacing structures and equipment where there is
       frequent contact by people.
     Advice can be sought from the Facilities Manager on alternative products to CCA timber.
     DECS staff or students should not undertake any new projects using CCA treated timber.
     Staff and students should wash their hands after contact with CCA timber.
     Further information can be found on the DECS OHS&W and APVMA websites. and

DECS Playground Equipment Safety Bulletin - Number 12                                page 7
Pllaygrround Equiipment IIssues
P ayg ound Equ pment ssues
Horizontal Ladders (Monkey Bars)
The Injury Surveillance and Control Unit, Department of Human Services has conducted a study
which indicates that the monkey bar is the leading contributor of playground injury.
Some 84% of children presenting to the emergency department of the Women's and Children's
Hospital (approximately 100 per year) as a result of a monkey bar event have fractures and 34%
are admitted for continued treatment.
The investigation has further revealed that most monkey bar injuries occur when the equipment
is being used as intended.

What are the varieties of monkey bars?
In older equipment the monkey bar tended to be a stand-alone item, however, in more recent
play equipment the monkey bar is often included as a link between two or more platforms.
This may be in the form of:
       Laterally curved monkey bars
       Inclined monkey bars
       Vertically arched monkey bars
       Roman rings- level, curved, inclined and arched
       Roman triangles- level, curved, inclined and arched
       Trapeze bars- level, curved, inclined and arched
       And others
As an alternative to the monkey bar, safer linking options including bridges, tunnels, nets and
balance walkers should be considered.

What are the major causes of injury?
The report found that all injuries were caused by a fall precipitated by circumstances such as:
      Trying to miss alternate bars - slipped off
      Became tired and couldn't continue - dropped
      Bars were too hot to handle - let go and fell
      Jumped to grab bar - missed
In many cases it was found that the depth and suitability of impact absorbing material beneath
and around the monkey bars was inadequate and that the height of the monkey bar from the
ground was considered too great.

What is recommended from the study?
  Managers in schools and preschools (staff, students, parents) become aware of the high
    risk associated with monkey bars and the need to reduce the number of units in use.
  Sites consider reducing the provision of these items to one monkey bar per site or none at
    all; replace monkey bars with other options as able.
  Ensure that the surviving monkey bars never exceed 2 metres in height, preferably, 1.8
  Ensure that the depth of impact absorbing surfacing beneath the monkey bar is never less
    than 250 mm, preferably 300 mm and that coverage includes a zone 2.5 metres either side
    of the monkey bar.

DECS Playground Equipment Safety Bulletin - Number 12                                   page 8
Overhead track rides* - maintenance and safety
These units are potentially the major injury causing element of playground equipment.

The advisers who represent the Health Commission and OHS&W groups are concerned that
injuries identified as being caused this type of equipment are increasing.

In 1997, an example of structural failure was that an element of an overhead track ride at a
primary school broke in a way which could have caused significant injury.

What are the problems with overhead track rides?
They involve vigorous use, which can cause impact with other children, the playground structure,
or the equipment itself.

If a child falls from the track ride handgrip in motion, the body rotates so that the upper body and
face impacts with the ground or other surfaces. Serious fractures of the arms, hands and wrist
are common results of incidents involving overhead track rides.

Many overhead track rides have been inspected and found to have inadequate or no soft fall
materials beneath and adjacent to them. At least 300mm depth is the minimum required.

Moving parts need frequent maintenance, and can fail dangerously if inadequately managed.

What should be done with overhead track rides?
    Remove or decommission them if the site is unable to adequately supervise or maintain
       their use.
    Provide students with advice on the correct use of the equipment.
    Ensure that the launching platforms have guard rails.
    Check that the handle stops travelling before it reaches the end of the track.
    Ensure that users always hold the handle with two hands.
    Make sure that the handle is light weight, padded and free of any sharp projections.
    Check that the handle is located between 1600mm and 1700mm above the platform.

What do I need to know about maintenance of overhead track rides?
    Ensure that all bolts or fixings are galvanised and secure.
    Check that the mechanism runs freely at all times.
    Check the handle and chain for visible wear and secure fastening every day.
    Ensure that soft fall material is adequate in depth and distribution at all times.

* Includes items which may be referred to as mono-rails, flying foxes or cable flying foxes in
some circumstances.

NB: Flying foxes were banned by DECS some years ago.

“Pig-tail” connectors for rotating / moving play equipment elements
‘Pig-tail’ connectors are not recommended for use in schools or locations where they are the
permanent attachment between moving and fixed elements. In all places where these
connectors are in use, the play equipment must be inspected daily with special emphasis given
to the wear point between the ‘pig-tail’ connector and the fixed frame.

DECS Playground Equipment Safety Bulletin - Number 12                                     page 9
Chain-suspended ‘clatter bridges’
The inspection of chains that are used as supports for clatter bridges or other parts of
playground equipment should involve careful examination of all links that are used as
attachment points. If any signs of wear or strain (such as discolouration, cracking or stretching)
are detected the equipment manufacturer should be contacted for advice about repair or

The following resources provide useful information on related topics:
Capital Programs & Asset Services
Shade Structures
Outdoor Learning Areas
Office of Recreation and Sport
Kidsafe SA telephone (08) 8161 6318
DECS Occupational, Health and Safety unit:
      Safety & Wellbeing Ph: (08) 8226 1440
      Injury Management Helpline Ph: (08) 8226 7555
The “Safety Inspection Checklist- Playgrounds”, produced by DECS Health and Safety Services,
is available from the Hazard Management section of the Occupational Health and Safety

Capital Programs & Asset Services
Asset Support Centre: 1800 810 076 or

DECS Playground Equipment Safety Bulletin - Number 12                                    page 10

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