Winter weather--like snow, ice, and fluctuating temperatures--can hasten the wear and tear of playground equipment. Extreme winter weather can create hazards and unsafe conditions on playgrounds.
Making outdoor play available to visitors is important for every season. In some parts of the country, colder weather and wintry conditions decrease visitors to your parks and playgrounds. Yet, some children and families still brave the cold to get some physical play outdoors.
A parks maintenance team taking proper safety precautions and promptly addressing weather-related issues allows children to safely use playground equipment in any season.
In this article, learn more about common issues playgrounds face in winter weather and how to help prevent unsafe conditions.
How Winter Impacts Playgrounds
The winter can make playground safety a challenge. Being aware of winter playground issues, however, allows you to proactively find and fix any problems.
Deteriorating Wooden Equipment
While playground equipment has evolved considerably over the years, some playgrounds still have wooden play features.
Unfortunately, winter weather isn’t friendly to untreated wood. Water can enter the woodgrain. As cold spells come and go, the water freezes, causing the wood to shrink and then expand. Constant freeze/thaw cycles result in warped, cracked wood that is less structurally sound.
Solutions: Nontoxic, waterproof sealant helps safely keep moisture out of the woodgrain, reducing the effects of winter damage. These sealants also allow the equipment to maintain its finish longer.
Another long-term strategy involves switching out wooden structures for other weather-resistant materials like heavy-duty plastics, steel, or aluminum.
Damage to Plastic Playground Features
The freeze-thaw cycle isn’t only a problem for wooden playgrounds. The fluctuating temperatures also cause the ground to shrink and expand, which can cause footers to become uneven. Footers that heave out of the ground put pressure on plastic components, causing them to pull apart or crack.
Solutions: Make sure footers are installed based on local requirements.
Conduct regular playground inspections, even in the winter. Inspections help identify and fix issues with the footers or playground features more efficiently.
Playground Hardware Issues
Extreme winter weather can cause hardware to loosen or cause some components to break. Protruding bolts can be an entanglement hazard for winter coats and attire.
Solutions: Check for loose bolts and connections during regular winter playground inspections. Tighten or replace any necessary hardware items. Keep extra stock of hardware prone to break due to the weather.
Cold, wet weather can make some play features unsafe. For example, a playground with climbers can become too slippery for children to use safely. Ramps are another common area where ice builds up.
Solutions: Create a plan to clear snow and ice from playgrounds. Consider using traction tape to reduce slippery areas. Section off unsafe playground areas and provide clear signage for why these areas are off-limits during winter conditions.
Dangerous Surface Conditions
Ice and snow make playground surfaces slippery and challenging to navigate. Freezing temperatures can decrease the attenuation (fall protection) of surfaces.
Wood chips, for example, are porous surfaces that collect water. The collected water freezes, making it difficult to walk and run. The harder ground also increases the chances of injuries from falls.
Poured-in-place rubber surfacing with cracks can also collect water that turns to ice, causing further damage and wear.
Solutions: Many surfacing issues occur because of poor drainage and uneven spots. Conduct regular inspections all year to find any low spots, water pooling, cracking, or peeling of the surface materials. Address these issues as soon as possible.
In winter, note where standing water or ice exists on the playground surface. Remove these hazards when possible.
Create a plan to fix drainage issues. Level the surface and fill in low spots. Find ways to keep water from running into the playground and flowing away from it.
Damage to Shade Structures
Some shade canopies are not designed to hold extreme snow build-up. A shade canopy can weaken or break when the weight from snow and ice buildup becomes too heavy.
Solutions: Remove any canopies or shade structures not meant for winter weather. Do a thorough inspection of all your structures before the winter. Look for any signs of structural damage, weak or sinking areas in the roof, and anything else that may worsen as the cold weather sets in.
Winter weather poses unique challenges for playgrounds. Scheduling regular inspections and addressing winter playground issues as they arise helps give children and families opportunities for outdoor recreation in the winter.