Play Equipment Safety

Safety standards that apply to children

A new European safety standard for commercial playgrounds came into effect on 1st January 1999. The standards BS EN1176 and BS EN1177 cover playground equipment and playground surfacing respectively. Though not mandatory or retrospective it would be considered best practice to comply with these standards when constructing commercial play areas and we recommend that you also bear them in mind when constructing residential play areas.

We have listed the basic requirements of the safety standards that apply to children over 3 years of age below as a guide:

General Construction

Handrails should be set at a height of not less than 600mm and not more than 850mm above the standing surface.

Guardrails may be used on equipment where the platform height is less than 2m and should be set at between 650mm and 850mm.

Barriers must be used on equipment where the platform height is above 2m and should be at least 700mm in height. They should not be constructed using intermediate horizontal rails or bars that would enable children to easily climb.

Where children are required to grip a support (i.e. holding of the hand round the entire circumference of the support), then it should measure between 16mm and 45mm.

Where children are required to grasp a support (i.e. holding of the hand round part of the circumference of the support), then it should not exceed 60mm.

A climbing rope should be fixed at both ends with no more than 20% slack movement and should be between 18mm and 45mm in diameter.

A swinging rope may be fixed only at one end but should have a diameter of between 25mm and 45mm.


To protect against head and neck entrapments avoid creating gaps of between 89mm and 230mm.

Avoid creating V shaped gaps of less than 60 degrees especially if they can be accessed from 600mm or above from the ground. (Pay particular attention if you are using diagonal braces to secure a timber structure)

Tunnels open at both ends should have a slope of less than 15 degrees and an internal diameter of more than 400mm. If the tunnel is over 2m long or the slope is greater than 15 degrees, then the internal diameter should be more than 750mm.

To protect against finger entrapments avoid creating gaps of between 8mm and 25mm, especially where the gaps is more than 1200mm above the ground.

Safety Zones

Where the height that the children can fall from (i.e. platform or monkey bar height rather than roof height), is between 0.6m and 1.5m then a minimum of 1.5m of clear falling space is required around the equipment. This area increases for fall heights from 1.5m up to a maximum of 3.0m. eg 2.0m = 1.83m , 2.5m = 2.16m , 3.0m = 2.5m (fall height = falling space)

For swings the surfacing distance is calculated based on the height of the top beam and the type of surface. Eg for a swing with a 2.4m top beam and bark surface then the safety area is the width of the swing frame x 8.7m. In addition no other equipment safety area should overlap this and the main traveling routes through the playground should not intersect it. (i.e. position swings at the back of a playground).

For cable runways (zip wire or flying fox) then the safety area should be 4m wide (2m either side of cable).

For roundabouts the safety area is a 2m all around. In addition the gap between the base of the roundabout and the playing surface should be maintained at between 60mm and 110mm.

Safety Surfacing

Commercial safety surfacing is covered by the standard BS EN1177 and is required generally for all equipment with a fall height above 600mm. Any safety surfacing products used should be tested in accordance with this standard. Whilst it is not a requirement for safety surfacing to be used in residential play areas it is recommended.

Various options include, in order of ascending cost, playbark / woodchip products, rubber grassmats (that allow the grass to grow through), shredded rubber “bark”, solid rubber tiles or continuous rubber wet pour.

The extent to which surfacing areas should be provided is covered above and the depth is also linked to fall height. Usually bark surfaces should be laid to a depth of 300mm and will also require a membrane and a retaining edge. Grass mats may be laid onto level grass or topsoil, cable tied together and seeded where necessary. Rubber tiles and wet pour should be laid on a solid base of tarmac, concrete or compacted stone.