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Playground and Recess Safety

Playground Safety 

Playground Equipment Replacement and Installation 

Outdoor Recess Temperature Considerations


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Playground Safety


To provide a safe playground environment, there must be adequate supervision, properly maintained play equipment and grounds, and appropriate activities.   Principals, building administrators, teachers, and playground aides must have a thorough understanding of why playground injuries/accidents occur, be able to recognize hazards, and be knowledgeable about appropriate activities for the available school playground space.

Playground injuries/accidents have many causes and safety hazards, including but not limited to the following:

  • Ruts, bumps, or holes in the ground and on the fields.
  • Ruts, wide gaps, or bumps on blacktop play areas (hard play areas).
  • Broken, worn, rusty, or protruding parts of play equipment.
  • Broken glass, nails, or other debris on the ground and in the soft play areas (safety surfacing under the play equipment) and on hard play areas (blacktops).
  • Ropes, dog leashes, or strings attached to playground equipment.  These can entangle children and cause injuries. 
  • Children playing on playground equipment while wearing clothing with hood or neck drawstrings, which can become entangled in the equipment and cause strangulation.  Drawstrings, scarves, necklaces, mittens or gloves attached with strings, and other clothing or jewelry that can become entangled should be removed before playing on playground equipment.
  • Jumping, falling, slipping off, sitting on top of, or running into the play equipment/apparatus.
  • Inappropriate student behavior, e.g., pushing or throwing a ball towards a piece of play equipment/apparatus.
  • Insufficient amount of safety surfacing under play equipment (12 inches of engineered wood fiber or 8 inches of compacted engineered wood fiber is required under all play equipment and play equipment systems).

Playground aides must recognize the above-listed injury/accident causes and safety hazards and take action to correct them. Offering alternative activities or taking appropriate discipline measures are the most common solutions. Initiating high-interest activities that reduce inappropriate activities/behavior before they start are ideal.

Examples of possible problem situations or conditions are as follows:

  • Landscaping—low hanging branches, cracked or broken surfaces, eroded edges and potholes, fences which create an attractive nuisance, and inadequate safety surfacing (engineered wood fiber under play equipment).
  • Too many students on play equipment.
  • Tag/chase games near equipment or through the middle of another game
  • The ball being thrown at the runner during kickball games.
  • Kicking or throwing balls against or toward the building.
  • Inappropriate rope activities, e.g., using the rope like a whip, tying the rope around self or someone else’s body, and tying the rope to a piece of equipment and using it as a swing.
  • Proximity of ball games to parking lots, streets, and buildings.
  • Loose gravel, potholes, or cracks on asphalt or concrete surfaces.
  • Dodgeball, kicking, or striking games in high-density areas.
  • Inappropriate activities for recess play such as softball, football, wrestling, or tackling games.
  • Tackling (tripping) during soccer games.
  • Lack of weekly raking of safety surfacing (engineered wood fiber).
  • Weeds growing around wooden borders of play equipment and in the safety surfacing itself (weeds should be pulled on a regular basis).
  • Inappropriate-age children on play equipment systems (2–5 years old, 5–12 years old).

School principals are responsible for developing a method of training playground aides in the techniques of safe playground management.  This may be accomplished by cooperative faculty planning in conjunction with the school physical education teacher.  Playground supervision guidelines are provided below.  These should be shared with elementary school playground aides, teachers, and building services staff at the beginning of each school year.   

Playgrounds and play equipment should be inspected daily for excessive wear, damage, and other potential safety hazards.   The Daily Play Equipment Inspection Form (below) should be completed prior to use each day.  It is important to ensure that there is sufficient engineered wood fiber to provide a safe surface for the play equipment.  There should be 12 inches (fresh, uncompacted) or 8 inches (compacted from use) of engineered wood fiber covering the playground area.  If additional wood fiber is required or equipment damage is found, schools should contact their maintenance service center for assistance.


Examples of playground equipment and surfacing deficiencies:

Playground platform damaged coating

Damaged coating for chain ladder climber

Missing climber handhold

Missing climber screw

Protruding bolt

Missing play equipment post cover

Not enough wood fiber, too many weeds


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Playground Equipment Replacement and Installation


Schools interested in replacement of damaged playground equipment or installation of additional equipment, to better serve their students, should contact the Division of Design and Construction.  A list of playground equipment prohibited for installation at MCPS facilities, for safety and/or maintenance-related reasons, is linked below. 

Examples of Playground Projects



  Playground - Before 


 Playground - After



Outdoor Recess Temperature Considerations


Schools should consider restricting or canceling outdoor recess during extreme or hazardous weather.  Schools may use the information below in evaluating weather conditions for outdoor recess.  In general, outdoor recess should be canceled when it is 20 degrees Fahrenheit or colder with a wind speed of 10 miles per hour or more (see red areas in the Wind-Chill Factor Chart below for hazardous combinations of temperature and wind speed).  Outdoor time should be restricted to 15 to 30-minute increments with frequent hydration when the heat index exceeds 90 degrees Fahrenheit (84 degrees F with 70%+ humidity).  Outdoor time should be avoided when the heat index exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit (see red areas in the second chart below - Heat Index Chart).  

Local temperature, humidity, and wind speed can be found at the National Weather Service website.

 CUPHD Temp Charts

Charts and condition precautions provided courtesy of Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.