Kids Health Info

Safety: Backyards and playgrounds

  • Play is an important part of a child’s development. When playing outside, children can have fun and be adventurous. Play also provides children with an opportunity for social development and growth through interaction with other children.

    The backyard or local playground is a great place to run, climb, swing, explore and play imaginary games. With careful planning, these environments can provide challenges and fun for children while maintaining their safety.

    Main causes of injury 

    Some play and recreation equipment commonly associated with injuries include:

    • monkey bars, trampolines, swings and climbing equipment (including tree houses)
    • skateboards, inline skates (roller blades) and scooters.

    Other typical backyard injuries include:

    • falling onto concrete
    • running into gates
    • falling from fences, fence posts and balconies.

    Safe use of play equipment

    Play should be enjoyable but, most importantly, play should be safe. Children under five years should be supervised at all times when playing outdoors. Older children need adult supervision when using trampolines and equipment such as bikes and skateboards.

    Whenever your child is using play equipment:

    • They should wear rubber-soled, closed-toe footwear to protect their feet and give them a better grip when climbing (avoid loose sandals and thongs).
    • They should not wear bicycle helmets in playgrounds due to the risk of entrapment or choking.
    • Choose safe times for children to play on equipment. Avoid busy times, times when children are tired, and during wet weather when equipment can be slippery.

    When using community play equipment, make an assessment about how safe it is and whether it is appropriate for your child. Report any problems to your local council.

    Choosing and installing play equipment

    Ideally, a play area needs to cater for various ages and interests and differing physical, social and mental abilities. If buying play equipment for home use, consider your child’s age and abilities, and the equipment’s quality, cost and maintenance.

    There are Australian safety standards that apply to playground equipment. It is up to you to check and make sure the equipment is suitable for your needs and situation.

    Be aware of safety features to look for when buying play equipment. Do not assume that all products are safe.

    When assessing and installing play equipment:

    • Take into account a child’s potential misuse of equipment (e.g. climbing onto the top of a cubby house roof).
    • Check for gaps where a head, arm, leg or finger could get wedged.
    • Good hand grips are needed on climbing equipment. Consider the size of your children’s hands in relation to the size of the hand grips.
    • The maximum height of equipment should be 2.5 m. Equipment that is over 1.5 m high is not suitable for children under five years of age.
    • Swings, slides and climbing equipment should have soft-fall material underneath to provide an impact-absorbing surface. If you use woodchips, you need a depth of at least 300 mm.
    • Position separate pieces of equipment far enough apart so that children playing on them at the same time do not crash into each other.
    • Swings should be in a separate area with barriers to prevent traffic flow across their path.
    • Playground equipment needs to be firmly set into the ground to ensure it is stable.
    • Regularly inspect and maintain equipment and remove hazards like nails, screws or bolts that jut out.

    Trampoline safety

    Trampolines are not recommended for children under six years old because children in this age group are more prone to serious injuries.

    • Only use trampolines fitted with a safety net and spring and frame pads to reduce the risk of injury.
    • If the trampoline is exposed to sun and rain, regularly check for holes in the mat and padding and any signs of rusting or other damage.
    • Only one child at a time should use the trampoline to reduce the risk of injury.
    • Supervise children at all times, regardless of age.
    • Do not allow somersaults or attempts at somersaults.
    • Never allow children to get underneath the trampoline.
    • Drinking or eating while bouncing should not be allowed because of the possibility of inhaling food and choking.
    • Teach your child to be careful when getting on and off the trampoline. Children should never jump from the trampoline to the ground.
    • Ensure that the area around the trampoline is free from hazards like walls, fences, play equipment and garden furniture. Check that the area overhead is clear from objects like clotheslines, trees and wires.
    • Place trampolines on a soft surface like grass, and not on hard surfaces such as concrete or bricks.

    Key points to remember

    • Be aware of the safety features to look for when buying play equipment and ensure it complies with Australian safety standards.
    • Trampolines are not recommended for children under six years due to risk of serious injury.
    • Children under five years should be supervised at all times when playing outdoors. Older children need adult supervision when using trampolines, and when they are learning to use new equipment.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    If we scoot to the park, is it safer for my child to leave her helmet on while playing on playground equipment?

    Children should always wear a helmet when riding or scooting, but when they get off, take off the helmet. Leaving a helmet on your child while at the park might seem a good way to protect them from bumps and falls, but the helmet can get snagged (e.g. on play equipment or tree branches) or get stuck in between gaps, posing a strangulation risk. To prevent playground injuries, adult supervision is always recommended anytime a child is using play equipment.

    We’re thinking about getting a trampoline. Are some trampolines safer than others?

    No trampoline can be guaranteed to be safe. Trampolines that are spring-free or that have a netted enclosure and safety pads are better options, but the best thing you can to do to prevent trampoline injuries is to set rules for safe use and always have an adult supervising.


    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Community Information. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed October 2018.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.

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Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.