Monkey bars, and other various varieties of "jungle gym" playground equipment, are very common in many public and school playgrounds. Due to the potential for injury from falling or improper use of the equipment, many studies have been conducted on the safety of the playground staple. Parents worried for their child's safety when interacting with such equipment should learn the facts and draw their own conclusions.
According to the National Safety Council, more than 200,000 children visit hospital emergency rooms each year due to playground injuries. Nearly 79 per cent of these injuries are caused by falls to the ground. Forty per cent of all playground injuries are directly related to climbing equipment, such as monkey bars and jungle gyms. Unfortunately, there are currently no national standards on the safety of these types of playground equipment. Therefore, it is important that parents take an active role in determining their child's safety while at play.
The National Safety Council recommends that surfaces around playground equipment should be filled with at least 12 inches of loose fill, such as wood chips, mulch, sand or pea gravel. This is to help minimise injuries due to falling from equipment. In addition, stationary equipment should have at least a 6-foot "use zone" in all directions. This is to make sure that children playing on the equipment are not distracted by those in nearby areas, as well as to ensure that children falling from such equipment do not harm others. These are two major factors parents should be aware of when choosing a playground.
Alternatives to Traditional Equipment
Traditional "monkey bar" setups are often high enough to cause major injury to children who fall. One safer variant is a row of overhead bars that are high enough for a child to hang from, but not high enough to cause serious injury in the event of a fall. A child can crawl or bear-walk hand-over-hand over the equipment. Another good alternative is geodesic-shaped jungle gyms. Geodesic models are often safer because children are able to rest before continuing their climb, allowing them to take their time and therefore minimise injuries due to fatigue or moving too fast.
Monkey bars and jungle-gym equipment are often made out of metal. These can lead to injuries, both mild and serious, when children inadvertently fall into or onto them. On the other hand, newer pieces of equipment are often made of safer materials, including PVC, plastic, ropes, wood and others. Those made out of PVC and plastic absorb impacts better than their metal counterparts and are therefore quite a bit safer. In addition, they will not rust, removing the risk for contracting tetanus. Parents should be on the lookout for these types of setups, as they will also generally indicate that the equipment is newer and better maintained.