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Playground Equipment Blog
Friday, January 25, 2019

Making Play Spaces Safe for Winter

If you’ve been paying attention to this blog, you know by now that winter can be one of the best seasons to get outside and enjoy getting exercise. Winter can offer so many fun opportunities with just a little bit of preparation.

At the same time, there’s no denying there are added risks to be considered. In the northern half of the country, winter means freezing temperatures, snow and ice. In the South and the West, winter brings with it chilly downpours and wind. In either case, spending time outdoors means dealing with what is usually the most inclement season of the year.

However, winter doesn’t mean you have to close your park or play areas until the spring thaw arrives. There’s plenty of ways to make sure your play equipment is safe for use and your parks are full of activities throughout the season. Use this list to make sure visitors of all ages are able to enjoy winter safely.

Make Sure Your Surfacing Is Holding Up

Surfacing is perhaps the blandest aspect of a playground (particularly for the kids), but it is central to the safety of everyone playing in that space.

Let’s begin with the kids of surfacing you ought to already have installed for play. There are a lot of options to provide an attractive, protective covering for your play area, and each option has its own positives and negatives. Finding the right playground surface to keep kids safe is integral in any season.

However, even with the best surfaces, there’s always the risk the weather reduces their effectiveness. If your surface is not level, water, snow, and ice can pool, creating a slick space children may slip on. Engineered wood fiber can also pool water under the surface and create slick areas you can’t immediately see.

Extreme cold weather can cause some surfaces to crack or become unlevel, increasing the chance a running child trips and falls.

To reduce these risk, start by clearing any pooling water or snow anywhere on the play space (as well on walkways that lead to your playground). You should also carefully walk the whole surface to give it a thorough inspection whenever possible. Additionally, if you have mats or tarps to cover the surfacing before storms, use them whenever possible.

See How Your Structures Handle the Plunging Temperatures

The first thing you can do to check your structure is to look out for any icy buildup. You don’t want children playing anywhere covered in ice because it seriously increases the risk of slips and falls. Since much playground equipment involves climbing, there’s a greater chance of significant falls.

Even if ice isn’t present, there may still be other risks. Playground equipment is designed to be durable, but that doesn’t mean it won’t begin to wear down in rough weather over time and without regular maintenance. Take particular care to inspect wooden structures, since wood is more susceptible to weather-related deterioration than either plastic or metal.

That doesn’t mean you can just assume plastics and metals are holding up, though. Given enough time, use, and troublesome weather, any object will wear down and become less sturdy. This can be particularly dangerous with children playing on these structures. Bolts may loosen in changing temperatures, leaving slides or bridges less secure than they should be. If metal, wood, or plastic splits it can leave sharp edges exposed.

Bring in a Professional

There’s only so much you can do as someone who is untrained in playground safety. The best course of action—particularly for those who have play spaces in areas with rough winter weather—is to bring in professionals to check over everything and make sure it’s safe for children.

A Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) will be able to inspect every aspect of your park or playground and note all the serious risks you have to look out for. Knowing what can go wrong helps you prepare so it never goes wrong, so having a CPSI come even before winter sets in can be a real benefit.

If you don’t have a CPSI in your area, courses are available, so you may be able to train yourself, adding that extra bit of protection every time you walk out to look at your structures.

Add Winter-Friendly Activities as Alternatives

Winter could definitely use a PR boost. While people often feel it’s the season that restricts outdoor activities the most, there’s actually plenty you can do indoors and outdoors.

So, take heart. Even if your playground for some reason needed to be closed for the winter, that doesn’t mean you can’t offer plenty of activities to keep people happy and active.

If you have open fields, consider creating a cross country skiing track. If your area is more hilly, open those hills up to sledding. With the purchase of a few sets of snowshoes, you can introduce people to their first snowshoe walks through park paths.

Some areas get a lot of snow, and you can take advantage of all that powder. Build snow mazes or snow forts where kids can play and explore.

Some activities actually improve in the winter as well. Find out if your area has any birds that stay through the winter weather. If so, you can organize bird watching tours.

With all those outdoor activities, you’ll want to have a place for everyone to just get warm. So, set up outdoor heated areas. Build bonfires and set up some outdoor heaters. You can have a little bar in the same area where you can serve hot cocoa and hot tea.

Winter does not have to be a season that keeps people indoor. You can provide your community with a safe, fun, and adventurous outdoor experience. Whether you’re facing chilly rains or foot upon foot of snow, there are ways to keep your equipment safe for use and provide winter-only activities that will leave your community looking forward to winter instead of fearing it.

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