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Playing it Safe

All photos COURTESY OF playworld systems

Safety is always a concern with playground equipment. Even when the equipment is built to safety standards, manufacturers are continually looking for new ways to create and enhance safety features.

LASN surveyed a sampling of manufacturers of playground equipment with a series of questions regarding the developing and testing of safety features. Gametime, Kompan, Landscape Structures, and Playworld Systems responded to our survey.


Describe the phases you go through from product idea to product introduction.

Landscape Structures:

Our development phases in which we address safety are: conceptual development, design development, and testing. During conceptual development we look at the basic function and aesthetics for the product. We consider how the children are going to use and potentially misuse the equipment. We then move to design and begin to apply size and scale to the product. We will incorporate the requirements of the safety standards, and determine the usability of the product based upon anthropometric data and our own experience. We also look at the structural requirements at this phase. Next we test or validate the design with a full-scale prototype. We evaluate its success against the requirements established during the concept and design.

Playworld Systems:

The first phase is always the concept phase. This is when someone has an idea for a new way to play. The idea may have been sparked from watching kids at play, talking with customers, market research or childhood experiences.

Kids experience the sensational thrill of height in complete security in play structures that provide total containment. The unit above has total containment at heights above 48 inches.

"When it comes to new products, I always keep in mind who the end user is - the kids! I ask myself, 'Are the kids really going to want to play on this?'" notes Eric Tritsch, design manager for Playworld Systems.

"Early on in the concept phase it is important to make sure that certain qualities - such as educational benefits or developmental benefits - are retained in the process," reveals Kevin Owens, Frontier Explorer for Playworld Systems.

The idea then enters the developmental phase and is sketched or modeled in a 3-D form - either by computer or with clay - and presented to a larger group. That model will show if the idea could really work and gives an estimate as to how large the finished product will be. Once an idea reaches the developmental phase, it is held up to the highest level of scrutiny. It's this step where many ideas end. But if the idea survives, it moves on to the next step.

"Are the kids really going to want to play on this?"--Eric Tritsch

The fun testing phase follows the development phase. It is at this point that the potential new product is tested for the "fun factor." A prototype is constructed and goes through early preliminary safety tests. Once those safety tests are complete, it's time to put the product to use. Kids play with/on the product and are asked for their input, reactions and ideas. They answer the questions, "Would this be fun?" "Would I enjoy playing on this?" "How would I play on this?" "How could it be better?"

Information from the fun testing phase is collected and the product then enters the engineering phase. At this phase, the idea gets one step closer to becoming a final product.

A variety of safety features: safety railings, containment features and a soft surface - all important elements of a safe playground.

The last phase the product goes through is the safety testing. All of the products from Playworld Systems(R) meet or exceed both U.S. and international guidelines, including CPSC guidelines and IPEMA, ASTM, EN and CSA standards. All applicable Playworld Systems playground products are IPEMA certified. IPEMA is the International Playground Equipment Manufacturers' Association.


Child safety is a primary consideration during each phase of product development, from initial concept sketches to final product. Our safety compliance specialists provide a critical review of each project at several points. Their input is valuable in helping to create products that are exciting and provide a perceived sense of risk, while eliminating any real danger to the child using them.

Kompan is a member of IPEMA, the International Playground Manufacturers Association. We are active in many areas of the association, including their Equipment Certification Program. All of our new designs are tested and comply with the appropriate specifications for the market in which the product will be sold. This includes the ASTM1487 standard and the CPSC Handbook for Public Playground Safety for the U.S.; the CSA-Z614 standard for Canada; and the EN1176 standard for Europe.


GameTime products conform to ASTM F-1487-01, the standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use.

GameTime is one of the founding members of IPEMA, and several of our people serve as board members, committee members and chairpersons of the association. In the interest of public playground safety, IPEMA provides a third - party certification, to validate conformance to established standards.

This play structure provides rock climbing fun while developing upper body strength. The stylized hand and footholds encourage imaginative fun while providing a safe ascent.

Our use of the IPEMA seal is your assurance that GameTime has received written validation from an independent lab that the products associated with the seal conform with the ASTM standard, as well as the Canadian CSA standard CAN Z-614. A list of our validated products may be found on the IPEMA website,


How do you handle accessibility?


GameTime has a lab partnership with an institute for children with special needs, so that we can develop and test our accessible products for superiority before bringing them to market. GameTime has worked with Boundless Playgrounds on several of their projects, and was recruited by the Children's Discovery Museum in Chattanooga, TN, to provide a play system for their "Kids like you, Kids like me" exhibit.

GameTime meets accessibility guidelines on all of its pre-designed PowerScape Plus and PrimeTime playground plans. We also recommend accessible surfacing options.


A key component of Kompan's philosophy focuses on inclusive design, what we call "play spaces for all." With more than 30 years of experience in this area, our company was chosen by the Access Board to develop "A Guide to ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Play Areas," now featured on the Access Board's website.

Our designs feature access-friendly elements and incorporates activities for the child with special needs. We give consideration of the ADA guidelines, even at the component level, our play structure designs carry our philosophy through the development of standard and custom composite structures and on to the design of entire playgrounds.

This enclosed tube slide lets kids experience the thrill of heights. Handholds in the entry barrier encourage the correct seating position and the longer exit allows for a safer deceleration.

We offer in-house training to our staff and sales force and encourage the development of accessible play sites. All of our special project proposals include ADA compliance reviews; our staff will even provide an ADA assessment for a customer's existing play site on request. This is important since play structures alone cannot be ADA compliant, only an entire playground site can be given this distinction.

In addition to providing consultations, we also invite the public with questions about this subject to give us a call, e-mail, or write us. We are more than happy to assist in making play sites comply with the ADA Guidelines for play areas.

Landscape Structures:

Steve King, the chairman of Landscape Structures worked with the Federal Access Board to establish ADA guidelines for playgrounds. Over the years Steve's experience has been passed on to our in-house design team, which has designed thousands of playgrounds that are accessible and inclusive.

The layout of the site and the design objectives of the client have a big impact on how accessibility will be achieved.

Landscape Structures has developed several breakthrough products that take a playground beyond accessibility and really make it inclusive. Our Sway Fun product, which is a large gliding platform, lets kids of all abilities, including those in wheel chairs, play and socialize together. Another product we introduced last year is Thunderhead Climber. This climber offers a variety of climbing challenges while satisfying the requirements of a transfer point.

How do you decide which product is appropriate for a specific age group? Talk about some of your products and their educational and/or developmental benefits.

PlayWorld Systems:

"We follow many of the principles in the theories surrounding child development. We look at anthropometry, which gives us a good idea of physical size by age. In addition, many of us [at Playworld Systems] have participated in the ASTM Safety Guidelines in which children's physical and cognitive abilities are discussed in detail. We then take the information we learn and apply it to new product development," adds Owens.

According to GameTime systems, research shows that the maximum height for play structures for school age children should top out at eight feet.

One of Playworld Systems' most recent new products is the Accessible Half Panels. Accessible Half Panels are activity panels, such as finger tracing panels or slider panels that are designed for easy wheelchair access. They are half the height of a standard deck or ground level panel, allowing kids in wheelchairs to be positioned directly in front of the panel to reach the entire active area. The panels are designed around whimsical themes: the Plane Panel has airplanes that slide on tracks, the Faces Panel allows kids to take on different personalities as they pretend to be other characters, and the Numbers and Letters Panel encourages kids to count and recite the alphabet as they trace them with their fingers. These panels allow kids of all abilities to interact and play together.


Each year, GameTime funds independent research studies to determine the skill set that a child possesses at key stages of development, then creates products to allow children to develop those skills while having a great time. One of our many research studies was commissioned to understand the impact of equipment height in relation to recommended age groups, safety and design. Our findings showed that the maximum height should be 8' for school age, and 6' for pre-school age children. This study has been recognized and published in American journals; we use it as a reference for everything we do. Our research studies benefit the industry and set GameTime apart as the leader in safety and child development.

Safety Statistics

Each year, about 205,860 children are treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained on a playground. Of these, 76% injuries happened on public playgrounds, and 23% injuries occurred on home play structures. However, of the 147 playground-related deaths reported for a year, about 70% of those occur on home play structures, and 30% occur on public play structures.

The distribution of injuries occurring on public playgrounds is the following:

45 % occur in schools
31 % occur in public parks
10 % occur in commercial childcare centers
3 % occur in home childcare
3 % occur in apartment play grounds
2 % happen at fast food restaurants
9 % happen other types of public playgrounds


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February 26, 2020, 7:29 am PDT

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