Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 6: Play Areas/Playgrounds and Transportation

6.2 Play Area/Playground Equipment

6.2.1 General Requirements Play Equipment Requirements

Play equipment and materials in the facility should meet the recommendations of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the ASTM International (ASTM) for public playground equipment. Equipment and materials intended for gross-motor (active) play should conform to the recommendations in the CPSC Public Playground Safety Handbook and the provisions in the ASTM “Standard F1487-07ae1: Consumer Safety Performance Specifications for Playground Equipment for Public Use.”

All play equipment should be constructed, installed, and made available to the intended users in such a manner that meets CPSC guidelines and ASTM standards, as warranted by the manufacturers’ recommendations. A Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) who has been certified by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) should conduct an inspection of playground plans for new installations. Previously installed playgrounds should be inspected at least once each year, by a CPSI or local regulatory agency, and whenever changes are made to the equipment or intended users.

Inspectors should specifically test wooden play equipment structures for chromated copper arsenate (CCA). The wood in many playground sets can contain potentially hazardous levels of arsenic due to the use of CCA as a wood preservative.

Play equipment and materials should be deemed appropriate to the developmental needs, individual interests, abilities, and ages of the children, by a person with at least a master’s degree in early childhood education or psychology, or identified as age-appropriate by a manufacturer’s label on the product package. Enough play equipment and materials should be available to avoid excessive competition and long waits.

The facility should offer a wide variety of age-appropriate portable play equipment (e.g., balls, jump ropes, hoops, ribbons, scarves, push/pull toys, riding toys, rocking and twisting toys, sand and water play toys) in sufficient quantities that multiple children can play at the same time (1-5).

Children should always be supervised when playing on playground equipment.

The active play areas of a child care facility are associated with frequent and severe injuries (8). Many technical design and installation safeguards are addressed in the ASTM and CPSC standards. Manufacturers who guarantee that their equipment meets these standards and provide instructions for use to the purchaser ensure that these technical requirements will be met under threat of product liability. Certified Playground Safety Inspectors (CPSI) receive training from the NPRA in association with the National Playground Safety Institute (NPSI). Since the training received by CPSIs exceeds that of most child care personnel, obtaining a professional inspection to detect playground hazards before they cause injury is highly worthwhile.

Playgrounds designed for older children might present intrinsic hazards to preschool-age children. Equipment that is sized for larger and more mature children poses challenges that younger, smaller, and less mature children may not be able to meet.

The health effects related to arsenic include: irritation of the stomach and intestines, birth or developmental effects, cancer, infertility, and miscarriages in women. CCA is a wood preservative and insecticide that is made up of 22% arsenic, a known carcinogen. Much of the wood in playground equipment contains high levels of this toxic substance. In 2004, CCA was phased-out for residential uses; however, older, treated wood is a still a health concern, particularly for children (6).

Compliance should be measured by structured observation.

A general guideline for establishing play equipment heights is one foot per year of age of the intended users. In some states, height limitations for playground equipment are:

  1. Thirty-two inches for infants and toddlers (six months to twenty-three months) (7);
  2. Forty-eight inches for preschoolers (thirty months to five years of age);
  3. Six and one-half feet for school-age children (six through twelve years of age).

Consult with your regulatory health authority for any local or state requirements.

Check the ASTM Website – http://www.astm
.org – for up-to-date standards. To obtain the publications listed above, contact the ASTM or the CPSC.

To locate a CPSI, check the NPRA registry at https://

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Methods of Supervision of Children Cleaning and Sanitizing Toys Prohibited Surfaces for Placing Climbing Equipment Inspection of Indoor and Outdoor Play Areas and Equipment
  1. Ammerman, A., S. E. Benjamin, et al. 2004. The nutrition and physical activity self assessment for child care (NAP SACC). Raleigh and Chapel Hill, NC: Division of Public Health, Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
  2. Ammerman, A. S., D. S. Ward, et al. 2007. An intervention to promote healthy weight: Nutrition and physical activity self-assessment for child care (NAP SACC) theory and design. Prev Chronic Dis 4 (July).
  3. Bower, J. K., D. P. Hales, et al. 2008. The childcare environment and children’s physical activity. Am J Prev Med 34:23-29.
  4. Brown, W. H., K. A. Pfeiffer, et al. 2009. Social and environmental factors associated with preschoolers’ nonsedentary physical activity. Child Development 80:45-58.
  5. Dowda, M., W. H. Brown, et al. 2009. Policies and characteristics of the preschool environment and physical activity of young children. Pediatrics 123: e261-66.
  6. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Committee on Environmental Health. 2003. Arsenic. In Pediatric environmental health, ed. R. A. Etzel. Elk Grove Village, IL: AAP.
  7. ASTM International (ASTM). 2007. Standard consumer safety performance specification for playground equipment for public use. ASTM F1487-07ae1. West Conshohocken, PA: ASTM.
  8. Fiene, R. 2002. 13 indicators of quality child care: Research update. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.