Everything You Wanted to Know About Playground Use Zones

4 parents watching their children play on a playground and talking

When shopping for playgrounds, you’ll often hear the term “use zones” tossed around. Use zones are an essential component to safe playground design. We’re going to tell you everything you wanted to know about playground use zones including:

What are playground use zones?

A playground use zone is defined as the surface under and around the playground equipment onto which a child could fall.  This area must be filled with some type of playground safety surfacing to help absorb some of the child’s fall.  They are designated areas surrounding each item of playground equipment, which must be kept empty and free from other structures or decorations.

These zones help kids stay safe as they navigate around the playground. If a child were to fall or jump from one playground structure and land on another, they could get hurt. Having at least six feet of empty space around every structure on the playground guarantees that they will land on the impact-absorbing surface material instead.

Taller structures, or ones such as swing sets that children tend to jump off of, may require larger use playground use zones than others. Conversely, smaller or less active features like play tables may not require any use zone at all (although they still have to be located outside of the safe use zones of other structures).

It is important to note that two structure’s playground use zones may not overlap. For example, if two climbers each have a safe use zone of six feet, they must be a total of twelve feet apart at a minimum.

This may seem to greatly limit your creativity when it comes to designing your playground. After all, everyone wants to pack their play area with as many exciting activities as possible. However, playground use zones require a large portion of the available space to be left blank. While they may seem like an inconvenience, playground use zones are an extremely crucial part of any safe play area.

Why are they important?

While making a playground as fun as it can be is always an important goal, keeping children safe is always what matters most. Kids won’t have fun on the playground if they are getting hurt. And to play without getting hurt, they need plenty of room to run around and be active. Kids love to be wild and crazy while they play. And as much as care providers may try, it is impossible to foresee and prevent every possible accident. That is why the play area itself must be designed in a way so that the frequency and seriousness of potential accidents is reduced.

How to measure your area for your use zone

The minimum distance of six feet extends from the perimeter of the structure, or its outline when viewed from above. This usually means its base, but if part of the structure overhangs the base, it must be measured from there. Of course, if the structure is tall enough, it will need more than a six-foot radius for its playground use zone.


Kids love to jump out of their swings at the height of the arc and try to go as far as they can. This can be thrilling for them, but it means that plenty of care must be taken when designating your swing set’s playground use zone.

A good rule of thumb is that a swing set’s use zone should be at least four times the height of its top rail. A swing set that stands 8 feet above the ground needs 36 feet of free space on both sides. This is why playground designers often push swing sets to the edges of playgrounds, farther away from other structures.


Like most structures, the standard playground use zone of six feet applies to slides. However, slides taller than six feet will need an additional foot or two of space around them. It is particularly important that there is plenty of space around the exit of the slide. This discourages other children from dangerously standing in the way, and keeps riders safe even if they move down the slide a bit too quickly.  Special attention is typically paid to slides, as they are in what’s called an “entaglement zone”, which means that they are high risk for strangulation.


Climbers, whether they are vertical or overhead, follow the same rules of safe playground use zones as other structures. This means a six-foot perimeter on all sides. Of course, it is never a bad idea to give taller pieces of playground equipment a little extra space.

Play Structures

It can be more challenging to provide an appropriate amount of safe use zone for play structures, since they feature so many different types of components linked together.

Keeping the ground around play structures free and unobstructed not only makes it safe for children to children to climb and play on the upper levels of the structure, it also allows them to run and play around the base. Kids will appreciate having the extra room for free form play activity. No matter how incredible the selection of playground equipment they have access to, kids will always find time for classic games like tag, and for that all they need is some friends and room to play.

For these reasons, it is vital to keep play structures far away from each other. This includes smaller items of playground equipment like spring riders, balance beams, and benches.

Remember your use zones

As important as it is to stock your play area with exciting structures and activities, the spaces in between those installations can be just as important. Playtime for children can be active, unpredictable, and impossible to contain. Every good play area needs playground use zones, so that the chaos and creativity of playtime has plenty of room to safely unfold. When planning the layout for your playground, safe use zones are one of the first things that should be taken into consideration. If you are unsure of the exact playground use zone requirements for a particular piece of playground equipment, it is never a bad idea to first consult a playground specialist or installer, like one of our Certified Playground Safety Inspectors, for more information. For more information about use zones and playgrounds in general, feel free to contact us for help!