Friday, October 26, 2012

Playground Safety Isn't Child's Play

When it comes to safety, Mike Holmes doesn't play around. In this article, reposted from the Ottawa Citizen, Mike speaks about the challenges of building a playground that's safe for kids to play on, as he did in the "Building Castles" episode of Holmes Makes It Right, which aired on HGTV Canada last Tuesday. Many playground related deaths are due to drawstrings from clothing getting caught on equipment as a child slides, jumps, or runs. This risk is even greater in a place like Canada, where children tend to wear more clothing due to a colder climate. To ensure the safety of the children who would eventually play on the High Park playground, Mike made sure that it met or exceeded the Canadian Standards Association's guidelines for playground safety. Read on...

Playground safety isn’t child’s play

Building things for little people demands thinking outside the box

Playground safety isn’t child’s play

More than 29,000 children end up in emergency rooms across Canada each year due to playground injuries, making safety a major concern.

Photograph by: Alex Schuldt , The Holmes Group

I’m always talking about different ways to make your home better, healthier and safer. You know the saying “think outside the box”? Well, it’s important to think outside the home — especially if we’re talking about children’s safety. Taking care of your kids goes beyond the walls of your house.
Playing outdoors is an important part of growing up and it helps children develop strong social skills and self-confidence. Part of our job as parents, grandparents, guardians or caregivers is to make sure we provide safe environments where kids can play.
When I was a kid, the playground was the epicentre of fun. You could run, jump, climb and swing until you were completely exhausted. But with all that activity, it’s no wonder playgrounds are also a popular place for kids to get hurt.
Bruises, bumps and scratches are all part of growing up. But the problem is when the injuries are more serious, such as broken bones or head trauma. That’s why safety measures need to be taken to prevent kids from being seriously hurt.
In Canada we have the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), which provides safety guidelines on everything from gas fireplaces to electrical safety. Since 1990, the CSA has been providing standards to help keep kids safe on public playgrounds. This includes information on materials, proper installation, equipment requirements, safety inspections and maintenance.
These guidelines get revised and updated, based on new research. But they’re voluntary. That means on a national level there’s no one going around inspecting playgrounds to make sure they meet CSA standards. Instead, we have regulations — and depending on where you live in Canada, these regulations will be different.
For example, in some parts of Canada daycare centre operators can’t get an operating licence if their playground doesn’t meet the CSA standard.
This past summer I was involved in a rebuild project that was definitely “out of the box” for me. We rebuilt a playground in Toronto’s High Park. It was the first time many of us had ever built a playground. We might be experts in construction, but we weren’t experts in playground safety. So I did what I always do: I brought in the pros.
Playground safety inspectors have the right skills and training to evaluate how safe a playground is. We had an inspector come out every couple of days during the build to look over everything. Usually they come at the end of the build, but we were on a tight schedule. It was easier for the inspector to be there to catch potential problems and correct them immediately instead of waiting until the end.
Luckily, playground deaths are rare in Canada. But when they happen they’re usually caused by scarves or strings on clothing getting caught as kids go down a slide, swing or jump off a platform. It’s also a greater risk in colder climates where kids tend to wear more clothing with drawstrings. That’s why buying playground equipment is specific to each region — what’s safe in the U.S. might not be safe here.
The most serious playground injury is related to drawstring entanglement. Another big one is entrapment, which is when kids get trapped in small spaces, like in between guardrails or ladder rungs. That’s why openings on playgrounds should be less than 3.5 inches (8.9 centimetres).
The most common cause of injury on Canadian playgrounds is falling. So we used the most impact-resilient wood fibre we could find that would be safe for children (they could even put it in their mouths, although I’m not recommending this). The wood fibre is also a fire retardant, so it won’t burn. According to the CSA, the required depth for the protective surface area is a minimum of 300 millimetres, but we put in 457 mm just to be sure.
Overhead clearance is also an issue for most playgrounds — but not the one we built. Instead of sticking to the five-foot-three-inch (160-cm) minimum, we built a six-foot-five-inch (196-cm) clearance.
It was important to me to build a playground that was easy for parents to navigate to get to their kids quickly, in case anything happened. I also wanted parents to be able to play and run through the structure with their kids without worrying about bumping their heads. That meant making the overhead clearance high enough for most adults.
The big difference between building code and playground safety regulations is you’re dealing with smaller users, so you have to be more aware of the issues they face. With the right pros, you can make almost any structure safe for children. And when it comes to their safety, there’s no playing around.
Catch Mike Holmes in his new series, Holmes Makes It Right, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit For more information on home renovations, visit
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