Most child development centers and other early childhood facilities provide playground equipment for their attendees. PlaySafe, LLC conducts audits at many of these playgrounds, and we have found that it is common for the areas to be designed for children older than the intended users. When designing an age-appropriate playground for this type of learning environment, there are three age groups with vastly different needs to keep in mind. The Public Playground Safety Handbook – 325, written by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, covers all three groups and lists them as Toddlers (6 to 23 months), Preschool (2-5 years), and School Age (5-12 years). Each section of the Handbook describes the different requirements for each age group. ASTM International provides the ASTM F1487 Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use, which limits the age groups it covers to 2-5 and 5-12 years old (defined as Preschool and School Age groups in the CPSC document). The ASTM F1487 also provides definitive direction for each age group’s playground designs.
ASTM International also provides the ASTM F2373 – Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specifications for Public Use Play Equipment for Children 6 Months through 23 Months (Toddlers group in the CPSC document). This is where most mistakes occur. Up until recently, there was not a wealth of playground equipment that a facility for young children could purchase that met the 6-23 months child’s needs and design requirements. Due to this shortage of correct user age (6-23 months) equipment, equipment for 2-5-year-old children was purchased and installed at early childhood facilities throughout the country. Equipment designed for 2-5-year-old children does not meet the safety performance specifications for the younger group and can cause injuries or even death.
There are many differences between the equipment for 6-23-month-old children and 2-5-year-old children, and we strongly suggest that you purchase the ASTM F2373, and ASTM F1487, and download the CPSC Handbook 325. The following are some examples of the differences:
Head and Neck Entrapment
The ASTM F2373 has a different size opening that is acceptable for equipment for 6-month to 23-month-old children. It also calls for use of an infant torso probe, which is a different size than the torso probe that the ASTM F1487 and CPSC 325 use for 2-12-year-old children’s equipment.
Vertical Heights Between Adjacent Platforms
The ASTM F2373 section 7.2.1 calls for a height of 7 inches or less between adjacent platforms to have infill and preclude the infant torso probe entry. The ASTM F1487 section 184.108.40.206 and the CPSC 325 sections for 2-12-year-old children equipment have different height requirements (12 inches for 2-5-year-olds and 18 inches for 5-12-year-olds).
Corners and Edges of Equipment
The ASTM F2373 section 220.127.116.11 provides a defined acceptable corner and edge on rigid materials of a minimum radius of 0.025 inches unless the material thickness is less than 0.5 inches. Much of the equipment for 2-12-year-old children does not meet this requirement and many child development centers have equipment designed for 2-12-year-old children at their locations.
All playground equipment is not equal and young children need our help the most. If the playground at your site (for young children) has not been reviewed to the ASTM F2373 and the CPSC 325 Toddler Sections, you may be creating an opportunity for a child to be hurt or worse and have to experience the lawsuit that will follow. Please take the time to identify the type of equipment you have and who is using it.
There are a few publications that would be helpful for playground operators, such as the Public Playground Safety Handbook written by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (2010, November), which is available for download at no cost. The ASTM F1487, Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use, can be purchased. The ASTM F2373 – Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specifications for Public Use Play Equipment for Children 6 Months through 23 Months can be purchased as well.