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Why there’s no monkeying around on extreme heat

Health Canada joins forces on designing safer playgrounds

When Karina Richters realized that extreme heat was increasingly impacting the safety of her two children on trips to the playground, she set out to find a solution.

The City of Windsor climate change supervisor recalls the day she knew she needed to act. She kept coming back from the park with her children mid-morning, because it was just getting too hot to be enjoyable. “Open, unshaded playground structures can reach among the highest surface temperatures in urban areas,” she notes.

She began seeking research on management of environmental conditions in playgrounds and emerged feeling assured of two things:

  1. Outdoor play is vital to children’s well-being, providing important opportunities for physical activity, lowering the risk of childhood obesity, and even reducing stress levels.
  2. There was limited guidance available on the risks of extreme heat in playground design.

That’s when she started working with Health Canada to explore ways to build resources and awareness to better factor heat risks into design of parks and playgrounds.

What began as a municipal effort, has since gained national attention after Karina connected with Gregory Richardson, a Senior Policy Analyst in Health Canada’s Climate Change and Innovation Bureau.

Health Canada has since worked with experts from across Canada and the United States, including the Standards Council of Canada, Tree Canada, the National Program for Playground Safety and the City of Windsor – to develop nationwide design guidelines for keeping playgrounds safe and enjoyable in extreme heat.

Annual hot days exceeding 30°C in Canada are expected to more than double in the next 20 years. As global temperatures rise, so does the importance of evolving designs of outdoor recreation spaces.

Children are particularly vulnerable to extreme temperatures, so reducing risk of heat-related illness and burns is crucial to ensuring safety.

This work has since resulted in guidelines for designing thermally comfortable playgrounds being integrated into a national standard for the design of playgrounds and equipment.

By increasing shade, planting more trees and adding water features, parks and playgrounds can become healthier, more comfortable and inviting spaces.

“Children’s playtime is so important,” says Gregory. “Creating safer spaces that provide even one extra minute of playtime is positive.”

“If we want to have healthy, physically active children and adults, we need to design our outdoor spaces to achieve those goals,” he adds. “Making playgrounds safe and green today can only provide benefits for the future.”

Together, the National Program for Playground Safety, with support from the Standards Council of Canada and input from an interdisciplinary team, developed technical guidance for making hot playgrounds safer and more thermally comfortable.

The guidelines have since been used by Canadian schools in a competition to design and implement green playgrounds.

Municipalities across Canada can consult these guidelines when planning new parks or upgrading current ones, to ensure the latest solutions for managing heat in playgrounds are considered.

Find more information on protecting children from extreme heat on Canada.ca.


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