Playing It Safe: Part 1 - Planning and Constructing a Safe Backyard Playground

Before you jump into purchasing a new backyard playground for your family, consider the following... Backyard playground safety begins even before the playground equipment has been constructed and installed. This article, and the series of articles that follow, will assist you in planning for and creating a safe backyard playground experience for your children and their friends.

The Best Location for Your Backyard Playground Equipment

Choosing the ideal location for your new playground equipment is the first step in ensuring backyard playground safety. Avoid sloping areas - level ground helps prevent playground equipment from tipping over. In addition, select an area that is away from potentially hazardous obstacles such as trees, low branches and wires, stumps, roots, large rocks, fences, bricks, and concrete. Plan for a safety zone of at least 6 feet around all backyard playground equipment; set aside even more space in front of and behind swings. Think ahead, also, to where you plan to position any metal or dark-colored slides or surfaces. Placing these out of direct sunlight can help prevent burns on hot, sunny days.

Protective Playground Surfaces

Once you have chosen the safest location for your backyard playground, the next step is to select an appropriate type of protective surface for under and around the equipment. Grass and dirt are the most common surfaces found under backyard playgrounds, but they are not adequate protection against injuries due to falls. Pea gravel, sand, wood chips, and shredded or recycled rubber mulch are some examples of protective playground surface options. Each protective surface option has its own specific minimum depth recommendations. More details on the topic of protective playground surfaces is covered in the next article in this series.

Backyard Playground Construction Materials

Two of the most common materials used to construct playground equipment are metal and wood. Metal playground equipment should be galvanized, painted using a lead-free paint, or otherwise treated to prevent rusting. Wooden playground equipment should be treated to resist rotting and insects. Cedar and Redwood are two recommended wood types for wooden playground construction because they are naturally resistant to rotting and insect damage. ACQ pressure treated wood is also a good choice. Any wood chosen, though, should be intended for outdoor use. To increase backyard playground safety, splinters and sharp edges on wood and metal equipment should be removed or covered.

Safe Hardware for Playground Equipment

Use the bolts and screws recommended by the manufacturer of your playground equipment. Lock washers or self-locking nuts are essential to prevent bolts from loosening over time. Be sure to cap any exposed bolts - these can cause serious cuts or entangle loose clothing. In addition, close all S hooks so that openings are less than the thickness of a dime. Carabiners, like those used in mountain climbing and other adventure sports, can be used as an alternative to S hooks to attach the top of each swing to the swing beam hardware. Carabiners can be safer than S hooks because they are less likely to entangle loose clothing and pose a strangulation hazard. Carabiners also make for easy adjustment of swing height. All playground equipment hardware should be resistant to corrosion.

Prevent Tripping Hazards

Always follow manufacturer instructions for anchoring your playground equipment to the protective playground surface. Watch for exposed anchors, hooks, and bolts, which can cause tripping and other injuries. Bury anchors and all other ground-level hazards under the playground surface, or cover them with protective surfacing.

Playground Equipment Safety Guidelines

When constructing your backyard playground equipment or when inspecting equipment you plan to purchase, use the following guidelines for backyard playground equipment safety recommended by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC):

Once the playground equipment has been chosen, constructed, and installed, the following guidelines will further ensure the safety of children who enjoy the playground equipment:

Maintaining Your Backyard Playground for Safety

Ensuring playground safety means maintaining the equipment over time. Bolts, nuts, caps, chains, cables, and other playground equipment should be checked periodically for wear and tear and replaced as needed. In addition, protective playground surfaces like pea gravel, mulch, and sand may need to be replenished as they become compressed. The topic of backyard playground maintenance is covered in more detail in the third article in this series.


Having the most fun possible is a child's only concern when it comes to backyard playground equipment. With proper planning and implementation of the playground safety recommendations presented in this article and in the series of articles to follow, you can rest assured that you will have created a play space for your children that is not only fun, but safe.

For even more information about backyard playground / playset equipment safety, access the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook.

Trey Collier is President of, where North America shops for Backyard Swing Sets, Kits & Plans.

More Health and Safety Articles

Playing It Safe: Part 2 - Protective Playground Surfaces - Which Option is Right for You?
One of the best ways to protect children in your backyard playground is to have an appropriate play surface. Get the information you need to make an educated decision.

Do You Have Recalled Items in Your Home?
Checking on the safety of things you and your family use in your home could be very important. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to make this relatively easy.

Copyright © 2003-2021 Stephanie Foster unless otherwise indicated


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