Student Injuries

Playground Safety

Each year, 1,700 Utah elementary school students are injured at school. That's enough students to fill the average Utah elementary classroom 68 times! Most of these injuries occur on a playground or playfield, with two-thirds of the injuries happening during recess. Playing on monkey bars and falls are common school or playground related injuries.

"Most of the common safety hazards we see on playgrounds are the result of everyday use and wear and tear over time," said Greg Langfeld, Environmental Health Specialist with the SLVHD. "Common hazards we look for include inadequate surfaces beneath playground equipment, loose nuts and bolts, cracked slides, and worn swings."

Data from the Student Injury Reporting System showed that from 2012-2015:

  • There were a total of 5,084 playground injuries at Utah's Elementary schools.
  • 67.1% of elementary school injuries occurred on the playground or playfield.
  • More playground injuries occurred during 5th grade than any other grade.
  • About 4 out of 5 (83.6%) elementary school injuries occurred during recess.
  • Falls were the cause of 37.8% of all playground injuries, followed by tripping or slipping 29.7% and collisions 23.7%
  • The top five injuries received included possible fractures/broken bones, cuts/lacerations, bumps/bruises/contusions, possible concussions and sprains/strains/tears. Percentages are possible fracture/broken (50.2%), cut/laceration (14.4%), bump/bruise/contusion (9.3%), possible concussion (8.1%) comes before sprain/strain/tear (6.0%).

Common Playground Safety Hazards

Some of the most common playground safety hazards include:

  • Broken equipment such as loose bolts, missing end caps, cracks, etc.
  • Broken glass & other trash
  • Cracks in plastics
  • Loose anchoring
  • Hazardous or dangerous debris
  • Insect damage
  • Problems with surfacing
  • Displaced loose-fill surfacing
  • Holes, flakes, and/or buckling of unitary surfacing
  • User modifications (such as ropes tied to parts or equipment rearranged)
  • Vandalism
  • Worn, loose, damaged, or missing parts
  • Wood splitting
  • Rusted or corroded metals
  • Rot

Types of Surfacing Materials

Many people commonly think that grass is an appropriate surfacing material to have underneath playgrounds. It might surprise you, but grass and other similar materials are not considered safe materials to use. The table below lists appropriate surfacing materials (2) that can reduce the risk of injury should a child fall from a playground.

Appropriate Surfacing
Inappropriate Surfacing
  • Any material tested to ASTM F1292, including unitary surfaces, engineered wood fiber, etc.
  • Asphalt
  • Pea gravel*
  • Carpet not tested to ASTM F1292
  • Sand*
  • Concrete
  • Shredded/recycled rubber mulch*
  • Dirt
  • Wood mulch (chromated copper arsenate (CCA)-treated wood product)*
  • Grass
  • Wood chips*
  • CCA treated wood mulch

*Loose-fill materials will compress at least 25% over time due to use and weathering. Never use less than 9 inches of loose-fill material. Shallower depths are too easily displaced and compacted.


  1. Public Playground Safety Handbook from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
  2. What Lies Beneath article from Parks & Recreation, November 2005
  3. S.A.F.E. Fall Surfacing from the National Program on Playground Safety