5 Everyday Safety Risks at School (And How Design Can Help Solve Them)
Administrators and parents alike are inundated with news of sad or terrifying behavior-related incidents that occur on school grounds. Bullying, harassment, custody issues, and active shooters are real concerns that can be mitigated through both design solutions and protocol. But design can also mitigate the risk of common accidents that occur on school property in areas like Parking Lots & Drives, Science Labs & Maker Spaces, Playgrounds, Athletic Fields, Special Education Classrooms.
This third article in our series will address playgrounds. Catch up on the other articles in our series: Parking Lots Safety, Science Lab Safety, Special Education Classroom Safety, and Athletic Field Safety.
Risk 3: Playgrounds
Nate Bosch, Landscape Architect
An important function of playgrounds is boundary and limit testing, which allows kids to develop and test their physical strength and spatial awareness through play. Giving kids access to inherently challenging environments creates a certain level of risk. But there are steps that schools can take to minimize accidents on the playground.
Schools should consider holistic site planning when designing a safe and inclusive playground. Kids shouldn’t have to cross a drive or parking lot from the school to access the playground space. The proximity of playground equipment to the building should provide the feel of independent play, while satisfying the need for adult supervision.
We also consider how the playground area can be safe for kids of all abilities. Accessible equipment allows all students to engage and interact with their peers, and it should be placed along clear, hazard-free paths.
A Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) can help evaluate surfacing and existing equipment. Involving teachers or playground aides in this evaluation is a great way to get real feedback on current equipment.
Schools upgrading legacy equipment will find that there are lots of great new products that meet safety requirements. But a truly dynamic playground space can’t be picked out of a catalogue. A well-organized playground respects the balance between equipment and open space. This gives kids enough space to run around with sufficient clearance from stationary or moving equipment.
Many school playgrounds function as community spaces outside of school hours. Site design can mitigate the school’s liability when unsupervised play takes place outside of school hours. Civil engineering addresses drainage to minimize standing water that could create slippery surfaces. Poor drainage can also lead to ground surface hardening in winter months, causing play surfaces to break down more quickly, which also impacts shock attenuation.