Playground Safety and Monkey Bars
Monkey bars and other playground equipment build strength and dexterity for children. But they are not without risk. In fact, our customers have reported that they are one of the leading causes of playground injuries.
Two factors in particular combine to produce a large number of upper body and extremity injuries—children's high centers of gravity make them prone to landing head-first, and the self-preservation reflexes that are meant to protect children from serious injury—for example extending arms when falling—will often result in lesser but significant hand, wrist, and arm injuries.
Regardless of how children are injuring themselves on monkey bars, the following protocols provide a comprehensive approach to keeping climbers safe:
Eliminate the exposure for younger children:
- Make sure children are using age-appropriate equipment only.
- Children younger than 8 generally have insufficient upper body strength to traverse monkey bars safely, and this piece of equipment should be off-limits.
Make sure that equipment has been properly constructed:
- Measure the bars to determine that they are spaced out at least 9" apart to prevent entrapment.
- Ensure that there is at least 9" of resilient surface underneath the monkey bars in order to prevent serious head trauma.
- Keep in mind that a 9" surface still may not reduce fractures or lesser injuries.
Inspect the equipment before each use:
- Make sure the monkey bars are dry and wipe them if necessary.
- Look for trash and other hazards under the monkey bars.
- Check each bar to be sure that none of them are loose.
- Inspect for any damage or disintegration of surface material below the bars.
Provide children with guidance on how to use monkey bars safely:
- Only one child should be crossing the monkey bars at a time to maintain adequate spacing.
- No standing on top, no hanging upside-down, or playing games to try to knock others off of the bars.
- Do not walk or stand under the bars when someone is using them.
Provide hands-on support for children:
- Have at least one staff member close by to monitor the monkey bars.
- Have a staff member act as a spotter for children younger than fourth grade to keep kids from falling or dislocating limbs while they climb.
Prevent unsupervised use:
- Post signage that warns children (who may not be with their parents) of possible injury.
- Do not expect kids to be able to read or adhere to the signage.
- Lock the playground area as an extra precaution to prevent unattended use.
Many cities and school districts have removed monkey bars from existing playgrounds and omitted them altogether from new playgrounds designs. If they are still on the playgrounds used in your programs, review your current practices and add in any additional protocols necessary to keep your youth, especially the younger more vulnerable ones, safe.