California Playground Safety
What are the standards for playground design and installation in California?
California law on playgrounds (Health and Safety Code section 115725-115735) begins:
(a) All new playgrounds open to the public built by a public agency or any other entity shall conform to the playground-related standards set forth by the American Society for Testing and Materials and the playground-related guidelines set forth by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.
(b) Replacement of equipment or modification of components inside existing playgrounds shall conform to the playground-related standards set forth by the American Society for Testing and Materials and the playground-related guidelines set forth by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.
(c) All public agencies operating playgrounds and all other entities operating playgrounds open to the public shall have a playground safety inspector, certified by the National Playground Safety Institute, conduct an initial inspection for the purpose of aiding compliance with the requirements set forth in subdivision (a) or (b), as applicable. Any inspection report may serve as a reference when the upgrades are made, but is not intended for any other use.
The following questions and answers are meant to be helpful, but do not represent legal opinions or substitute for Health and Safety Code section 115725-115735. To see the entire playground safety law, click here. Playground owners and operators should read the law itself.
What specific standards apply to California playgrounds?
California standards conform to playground-related national technical standards set by the American Society on Testing and Materials (e.g., F1487 for equipment standards, F1292 for surfacing, and The Public Playground Safety Handbook: Publication #325) published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. These national standards are updated from time to time as new information and technology become available.
Do the standards apply to all playgrounds?
They do apply to all outdoor playgrounds that can be accessed by the public, including those on private property such as churches, child day care facilities, apartment complexes, and gated home owner associations. Indoor playgrounds are not subject to playground standards.
Do playgrounds have to comply with building codes?
Local building inspectors do not inspect playgrounds, unless they are indoors or otherwise part of a real property structure requiring inspection. Building codes can be both state and local, but they are enforced locally. Contact your county or city building inspection office for information.
Do playgrounds have to meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards?
ADA standards are built into the national playground standards. Whenever a playground is updated, it must also be brought into compliance with ADA.
If you change a playground, for example by adding equipment or putting in a new surface, do you need to have the whole playground re-inspected?
There is no simple answer. Each new change needs to be inspected, including how it interfaces with other playground components (e.g., to make sure that the fall zone for the new swings is large enough so that if youngsters do fall off, they don’t hit other equipment or barriers like fences).
Are there fines or other punishments for failing to get an inspection or failing to pass an inspection?
No. Playground standards are self-policing. We cannot offer legal advice, however, an out-of-compliance playground can place children at risk of injury or death and make the owner and operator vulnerable to lawsuits.
How do I find a Certified Playground Safety Inspector who can certify whether my playground is up to standards?
The California Park and Recreation Society lists certified inspectors in their California Playground Safety Inspector Fact Sheet. Many school and park districts now have designated staff that have been certified as inspectors.