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It's Play Time

This early childhood play set features a wide stair system for younger children and stands on rubber surfacing. The surface is poured as a liquid, similar to the way in which concrete would be, however as it sets it remains soft. This type of surface can also be a canvas for custom graphics like the sun and cloud motif seen here or your facility's logo.

The old metal swing sets we all played on as children have been replaced by play structures made with a wide variety of material choices such as treated wood, recycled plastic and reclaimed steel. Recently however, some have become concerned over the materials used to manufacture play structures. To be more specific, the material commonly used in commercial playgrounds in the form of plastisol coatings and the chemicals used to treat wooden play equipment.

Concerns Over PVC

In September of 2004, Big Toys, Inc. removed all polyvinyl chloride (PVC) materials from their play equipment due to concerns of the potential risks to the health of children and a negative impact on the environment. In addition to life cycle concerns, plasticized PVC poses its greatest hazard to children when it is burned as a result of vandalism. The burning of its coated components on play equipment results in hazardous concentration of toxic PCB’s and carcinogenic dioxin residue left behind on the playground. PVC is also hazardous while being used because the substances used to make it soft and flexible break down and are released through leaching and off-gassing during a products’ useful life. Additionally, post consumer recycling of this material is nearly impossible because of the additives required to make it useable, leading the Association of Post Consumer Plastic Recyclers to declare it a contaminant in 1998.

The Hamlet model by Big Toys, Inc. is a play structure designed for early childhood development or from ages two to five. The roof peaks at approximately nine to ten feet from the ground but the deck heights and slide lengths are kept at a minimum, ideal for younger children.

Wood Based Play Equipment

Like metal, plastic and other materials, most wood is subject to deterioration when exposed to continual soaking or when in contact with the soil. Treating a wood based play structure with a sealant can greatly increase the life of the structure. Although chromated copper arsenate (CCA)-treated wood play equipment is no longer manufactured, it is not always necessary to remove it from public play areas. CCA cannot be transferred by merely touching the equipment, but applying a penetrating coating suggested by the EPA can help keep these structures safe and useable. Not to mention the longer wood lasts, the fewer trees need to be cut to replace it.

There are still some misconceptions however regarding treated wood play structures such those regarding pressure treated wood. These structures are not bad but refer only to the process of applying a liquid solution to wood within a vacuum, not to the materials that are being applied. However, it is important to check which various stains, water repellents, wood treatments and other materials are being applied to your play structure for health and safety reasons. Some woods may appear to have a greenish tint that some may interpret as being the side effect of a harmful chemical application when in fact this color results naturally from the use of copper as a preservative agent to reduce decay from fungi.


Annually, numerous children are injured on playground equipment so it is important to consider a few simple recommendations:

  1. Site selection: Choose a site far enough away from other structures such as fences and trees. Additionally, sprinklers that are not properly aimed away from a play set could cause water damage to a wooden structure.
  2. Structure selection: Make sure the equipment you choose is customized to the ages of children who will be playing. Also consider the duration of their playtime. A play set that it utilized at recess at an elementary school may only be used for minutes at a time but by large groups of children. However the equipment in a residential setting or park may be used for longer periods of time but by fewer children.
  3. Surfacing: Protective surfacing is important because injuries commonly involve falls onto hard surfaces. A good rule of thumb is the taller the equipment, the greater the thickness of the protective surfacing.
  4. Maintenance: Routinely check to ensure that all of the moving parts are well oiled, the nuts and bolts remain tight and that all exposed hardware is capped off. Manufacturers often provide more details as to how to maintain their unique structures and it is important to acknowledge them. Source: Big Toys, Inc.

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October 15, 2019, 4:55 am PDT

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