Background: The safety of playgrounds is important to protect children from injury, but studies are mostly done mainly under laboratory conditions without epidemiological data. We investigated the safety of different playground surfaces, and types and heights of equipment in public playgrounds in the City of Cardiff, UK.
Methods: We did a correlational study of 330 children aged between 0 and 14 years. All children were hurt when playing in playgrounds in Cardiff and presented to the Accident and Emergency Department in Cardiff Royal Infirmary during summer (April to September) 1992 and 1993, and the whole of 1994. We studied the children's hospital records to establish the type of injury and interviewed their parents to find out the playground and type of equipment involved. The main outcome measures were the number of children injured whilst playing, and injury rates per observed number of children on different surfaces, types, and heights of equipment.
Findings: Children sustained significantly more injuries in playgrounds with concrete surfaces than in those with bark or rubberised surfaces (p < 0.001). Playgrounds with rubber surfaces had the lowest rate of injury, with a risk half that of bark and a fifth of that of concrete. Bark surfaces were not significantly more protective against arm fractures than concrete. Most injuries were equipment related. Injury risk due to falls from monkey bars (suspended parallel bars or rings between which children swing) was twice that for climbing-frames and seven times that for swings or slides. The height of the equipment correlated significantly with the number of fractures (p = 0.005) from falls.
Interpretation: Rubber or bark surfacing is associated with a low rate of injuries and we support their use in all public playgrounds. Bark alone is insufficient, however, to prevent all injuries, particularly arm fractures. Rubberised impact-absorbing surfaces are safer than bark. We believe that playing on monkeys bars increases the risk of injury in playgrounds and that they should generally not be installed. Safety standards should be based on physical and epidemiological data. Our data suggest that the proposed raising of the maximum fall height from 2.5 m to 3.0 m in Europe is worrying.