Maintaining Outdoor Play Areas & Equipment

Safe outdoor play for children contributes greatly to their physical and mental wellbeing. Running, jumping, swinging and climbing support their stability, bone density and muscle development. And playing together in the sunshine lets them get plenty of vitamin D while developing their emotional and social skills.

But as children grow stronger and more energetic, the outdoor play areas and equipment they love endure more and more wear. To keep them in great condition and help the children you care for stay active, it’s vital to carry out regular playground equipment maintenance.

In this blog, we look at rules, regulations and advice for developing a thorough playground maintenance checklist, and provide specific information for caring for your equipment. That way, you can have durable play equipment for schools, day care centres and nurseries that last for years.

Why is playground equipment maintenance so important?

Keeps children safe

Damaged surfaces, sharp protrusions and broken ropes can easily cause injuries. In some cases, these might be simple cuts and scrapes. In others, it can mean broken bones and worse.

Following a playground maintenance checklist makes it easy for you to provide a safe and fun play environment for the children in your care. That way, they can develop healthy habits, skills and mindsets that will help them succeed in later life.

Protects your investment

Outdoor play equipment costs money. And the better you maintain it, the longer it will last. Extending the life of your equipment even by a year or two frees up funds that you can spend in other areas to support the well-rounded development of your kids.

You have a legal obligation

Certain rules and laws require you to perform regular inspections and playground equipment maintenance. Meeting these requirements limits your liability for any unfortunate accidents, and allows you to identify potential hazards that might cause them in the first place. That means you can avoid fines, legal action and any damage to your reputation as a childcare provider.

Rules and regulations of playground equipment maintenance

The laws surrounding playground equipment maintenance are constantly being updated to improve safety and account for new trends or advances in technology. The information you find here covers the most important legislation at the time of publishing.

The most significant legislation covering playground safety is the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Under Sections 3 and 4, you have a duty to ensure the health and safety of playground equipment users so far as is reasonably practical. An addition to the Act, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations1999, also requires you to perform regular risk assessments, create a safety policy for meeting risks, and deliver appropriate training.

Other types of playground safety legislation to consider include:

  • The Occupier’s Liability Act 1957 (Revised 1984), which requires that people can expect to be reasonably safe while using your playground equipment and outdoor play area
  • The Consumer Protection Act 1987, which makes playground equipment manufacturers responsible for injuries caused by defective products
  • The Children Act 1989, which states that outdoor play areas must be safe and suitable for their purpose, and meet all relevant standards

These laws apply across England and Wales. But there are some slight differences for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Remember, we’re not legal advisors, so we don’t have a comprehensive knowledge of all the rules and regulations that apply to playground safety. For a full list of relevant legislation, please refer to The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). And if you’re ever unsure, please contact your local Health and Safety Executive for advice.

Your playground maintenance checklist

Although you’re required by law to perform regular risk assessments, you’re under no legal obligation to follow a particular inspection and maintenance plan. However, the safety standard BS EN 1176 also strongly recommends that you complete (or have a qualified person complete) regular risk assessments and follow specific courses of action if problems are found. These procedures are recommended by the British Standards Institute, the Health and Safety Executive, and RoSPA.

Creating a well-defined system of inspections can be tough. So to give you a helping hand, we’ve put together some sample checklists to help you keep your outdoor play area and equipment safe.

Routine inspection

This is a daily or weekly inspection to check the basic condition of your playground equipment. It should be carried out by a manager or trained member of staff and be recorded on a simple sheet or book.
These inspections should be informed by your playground equipment manufacturer’s care instructions. You can find the care instructions for Landscapes for Learning equipment on each item’s product page in our online store.

Routine inspection example checklist

General hazardsThe playground is free from debris and litter
There are no trip hazards or other obstacles in the play area
EquipmentThe equipment has no rust, rot, cracks or splinters
There are no loose, broken or missing parts
All equipment is anchored securely
No moving parts are exposed
Moving part are lubricated and not worn
There are no sharp points, corners or edges on the equipment
There are no pinch, crush or shear points
There’s no risk of clothes getting tangled on hooks or bolts
SurfacingThere’s enough protective surfacing under and around the equipment
Loose-fill material isn’t compacted in heavy-use areas (such as under swings or at slide exits) 
Rubber mats under high-use areas are covered by enough surfacing material
There’s no debris or other hazards in the loose-fill surface material
DrainageThe entire play area has plenty of drainage, especially in heavy-use areas

Operational inspection

As well as your routine inspections, a manager or trained member of staff should carry out a more detailed examination of your playground equipment monthly or quarterly. Record this in your risk assessment log book for future reference.

Operational inspection example checklist

General conditionCheck the overall condition of outdoor play area furnishings and amenities
Check the condition of any fences, walls or barriers
Check the condition of the play area access (such as pathways or steps)
General hazardsRemove debris and litter from the outdoor play area
Check loose-fill material and protective surfacing for foreign objects
EquipmentCheck that all equipment is stable and securely anchored
Look for any broken, bent or missing components
Check all moving parts for wear and tear, and make sure they’re sufficiently lubricated
Inspect wood components for cracking, splitting, splintering, and gaps of more than 19mm
Check slides for cracks and sharp points
Untangle swings from around the top-rail
Check the swing chain for kinks, twisting, damage and wear
Check swing seats for damage
Check tyres for splits and protruding steel
Inspect all fittings, bearings, guardrails and components
SurfacingRefill loose-fill surfacing material in heavy-use areas (such as under swings or at slide exits)
DrainageCheck for any signs of drainage problems (such as pooling water or sodden loose-fill material)

Annual inspection

Once a year, you should arrange for an external specialist to carry out a full inspection of your outdoor play areas and equipment. The specialist you choose should have no connection to your organisation, managers or staff.

You can arrange an annual inspection with your insurer, your playground equipment manufacturers, a commercial company or a safety organisation like RoSPA. This inspection will look at the following items to confirm you provide safe outdoor play for children:

  • Minor and major wear
  • Long-term structural issues
  • Changes in compliance and design practices
  • Your risk assessment procedure

Maintenance tips for specific equipment and materials

Timber

Cleaning: A build-up of wet leaves, algae and other can make timber playground equipment slippery. Regularly brush with a stiff broom and hose with water to clean. You can also apply decking oil to decks and other wooden equipment such as mud kitchens or planters to keep your features in excellent condition.

Cracks: Timber constantly expands and contracts with changes in temperature and moisture content. Over time, this leads to cracking. But in most cases, cracking doesn’t affect the strength or lifespan of wooden equipment. If you see any cracks less than 8mm wide or less than half the diameter of the timber, it’s generally safe to ignore.

Splinters: While cracks tend to be harmless, both cracking and general use can create splinters, which can be harmful to children. If you notice splinters, remove any loose flecks before rubbing the area smooth with sandpaper.

High-density polyethylene

We use high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pads for our Deluxe Triple Trouble and Deluxe Mini Mud Kitchen, as well as our slides. It’s a strong material that doesn’t rot, splinter, crack or even fade in the sunshine. It doesn’t need much maintenance, either. Just wash it down with hot, soapy water and leave it to dry.

Metal

Inspecting your equipment for sharp or damaged metalwork should be part of your regular checks. In most cases, a quarterly check is enough. But if you live in a coastal area, it’s better to check your metal playground equipment monthly.

When checking your equipment, look out for:

  • Cracks, sharp parts or damage
  • Deterioration or rust on the surface paintwork
  • Loose moving parts that could trap clothes and fingers

Replace any damaged parts immediately. And remove rust and loose scale before retreating bare metal.

Slides

Slides are very easy to maintain. After wiping clean, clear the surrounding area of obstructions and debris. Check the surfacing at the slide exit as well, as heavy use can disperse or wear away loose-fill material.

We make our slides from HDPE. But other manufacturers might use stainless steel. This can be unsafe, as stainless steel slides absorb a lot of heat in warm weather. So when the sun’s out, be careful before you touch the slide, and make sure it’s not too hot for children to play on.

Swings

As well as checking swing seats for damage, pay close attention to the chains, S-hook, hangers and shackles. If you notice wear in any of these components, replace them immediately.

It’s also important to make sure the surfacing around and underneath your swing set is of a suitable depth. If you use loose-fill surfacing like wood chips, rake and fluff them regularly to keep them from compacting.

Ropes

To maintain strength and integrity, most ropes in playground equipment have a steel wire core. When the rope fibres are fraying or damaged, this steel wire can become exposed. Replace any damaged ropes you find, and re-tension your ropes every few months to keep them tight.

Sandpits

As the children in your care play in their sandpit, their many steps will gradually compact the sand. Rake or fork it weekly to keep it soft and loose, and sprinkle in a weak, child-safe disinfectant using a watering can or similar tool. Top up the sand when it starts to get low, but always buy dedicated play sand rather than use building sand, as this is unsafe.

After each play session, remove all toys, tools and debris, and allow your sandpit to drain completely.

Invest in durable play equipment for schools, day care centres and nurseries

Following a playground maintenance checklist is key to making sure your equipment lasts as long as possible. But there’s one sure-fire way to double or even triple the lifespan of playground equipment. That’s to buy durable play equipment for schools, day care centres and nurseries right from the start.

At Landscapes for Learning, we supply a wide range of high-quality, affordable and award-winning sensory learning equipment throughout the UK and Ireland. From climbing frames and playhouses to bug hotels and outdoor classrooms, we have everything you need to provide fun, educational and safe outdoor play for children.

Visit our online store now to fill your playground with the very best in playground learning equipment!