The Best Ways to Keep Kids Safe on Hot Playgrounds

Playground safety has always been a priority for parents and childcare providers. In addition to checking faulty and sharp-edged equipment, hot playground structures have been a cause for concern. Young children are especially vulnerable, because they don’t understand the dangers of hot structures, and many are not mobile enough to move out of harm’s way.

Last year, Danielle Zillioux from Raleigh, North Carolina reported that her 14-month-old daughter got 2nd-degree burns on her hands from her daycare program’s playground. Zillioux said, “It doesn’t have to be super hot days, and there doesn’t have to be direct sunlight.” Zillioux urges the daycare center to install shade structures on the playground, so this doesn’t happen to other children.

Andrew Roszak and Nikki Fernandez inspecting a playground in The US Virgin Islands

ABC News Tested Temperatures on Hot Playgrounds in California

ABC News’ Kayna Whitworth says, “Modern plastics can get so hot that they can leave a 3rd- degree burn.” Whitworth decided to see how hot playgrounds can get, so she met up with Jennifer Vanos, Ph.D., Asst Professor in Human Biometeorology at the University of California San Diego. Vanos took readings on various playground equipment, sunny and shaded, around California. Vanos says, “Playgrounds are acting as mini heat islands.”

Vanos and Whitworth found:

  • Plastic slides can reach 160°F.

  • Rubber cushioning reaches over 170°F.

  • At just 140°F, a child can get a 2nd-degree burn in as little as 3 seconds.

  • A 3rd-degree burn takes only 5 seconds.

  • Children 2 and under are at a heightened risk because they likely don't know how to remove themselves from a scalding surface.

  • Parents need to be vigilant: go around and feel the playground equipment.

  • Make sure children are covered with long pants.

  • Children also need to wear shoes that won’t fall off to prevent burns on the bottom of their feet.

Whitworth and Vanos’ findings aren’t specific to sunny California. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says, “Even in mild weather, as long as the equipment or surfacing is in direct sunlight for an extended period, there is a risk of sustaining a thermal burn injury.” Reports show that pediatric burns happened when temperatures were in the low 70’s.

Andrew Roszak Tests Playground Equipment in the US Virgin Islands

Our Executive Director, Andrew Roszak, was recently teaching classes in the US Virgin Islands. He recorded temperatures on a local playground using a heat gun, which looks at ambient temperatures of playground equipment to show how hot it can get on a 90°F day in the summer.

Roszak found:

  • Floor rubbering quickly reached 120°F.

  • A slide in the shade only reached in the low 90°F range, which was a 30° temperature difference between the sun and shaded areas.

Roszak says that child care providers should consider adding shade structures to all playground equipment. It makes a temperature difference, and it will ultimately result in fewer pediatric burns.

Ways to Keep Kids Safe on Hot Playgrounds

Michael Allen is a Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Geography and Climate Scientist at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. He says it’s important to be aware