How Safe is the Playground Where Your Child Plays?

(Salt Lake City, Utah) – When the bell rings for recess, school children make a dash for the playground. But for nearly 1,700 Utah children attending public schools – enough students to fill 24 school buses – playgrounds will be the cause of bumps, bruises, and even broken bones. In response, the Utah Department of Health (UDOH), Salt Lake County Health Department (SLCoHD), and LuckyDog Recreation held a playground safety inspection to highlight common hazards and ways to keep children active and safe on playgrounds.

“We want to make sure that kids are getting outside and staying active but doing so safely,” said Hillary Campbell, student injury reporting technician with the UDOH. Common playground safety hazards include loose bolts, cracks in slides, inadequate or improper surfacing materials, missing or damaged parts, rusted or corroded metals, and damage caused by vandalism.

“We inspect playground equipment to make sure there are no protruding nails, frayed ropes, or broken parts,” explained Zach Torres-George, environmental health scientist with the SLCoHD. “We also look for things that people might not consider such as the distance between horizontal bars so a person’s head can’t get stuck; making sure slides are shaded or face north; and trash, broken glass, or animal droppings in the play area.”

Data from the UDOH showed that from 2012 to 2015:

  • 67.1 percent of student injuries in Utah elementary schools occurred on the playground.
  • More playground injuries occurred during 5th grade than any other grade.
  • Most elementary school playground injuries (83.6 percent) occurred during recess. The most common activities during which these injuries occurred were playing on bars (26.5 percent), running (23.5 percent), and walking (6.0 percent).
  • Falls were the cause of 37.8 percent of all playground injuries, followed by tripping or slipping (29.7 percent) and collisions (23.7 percent).
  • The top three injuries received included possible fracture/broken bone (50.2 percent), cut/laceration (14.4 percent), and bump/bruise/contusion (9.3 percent).

Christine Christensen, principal at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School welcomes regular inspections. “We have 750 students using the playground equipment every day. One would expect there to be wear and tear on the equipment and repairs needed. The inspections help us to be proactive in keeping the playground in good repair and ensuring the safety of all our students.”

  • UDOH has the following recommendations for schools to keep playgrounds safe:
  • Establish and enforce playground safety rules (such as no pushing, crowding, or shoving).
  • Always have trained adult supervisors present whenever children are playing on the equipment.
  • Develop a playground inspection and equipment maintenance checklist.
  • Promptly repair broken playground equipment and make sure proper surfacing materials are used (such as wood chips, pea gravel, shredded rubber mulch, etc.).
  • Schedule regular inspections.

Injury hazards don’t just exist on school playgrounds. Torres-George hopes that the public will be their eyes and report problems. “We can’t be everywhere all of the time so we rely on the public to help. If you’re concerned about a safety hazard at a public playground, report it to the parks and recreation department in that area.”

Tips to keep playgrounds and play surfaces safe, potential hazards to watch for, and inspection checklists can be found at

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Media Contacts:
Tammy Kikuchi, UDOH
(o) 801-538-6426
Pam Davenport, SLCoHD
(o) 385-468-4122 (m) 801-209-0986