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Playground Safety Surfacing

By Jerome Morningstar, Sof Surfaces






When specifying a safety surface, it is important to consider a system that provides ASTM F1292-04 test results that are a minimum of 20 percent better than the upper limit. By ensuring that your system performs 20 percent better, you are in effect building in a safety margin to compensate for future wear and tear on the surface. A surface producing results close to the upper limit is less likely to remain in compliance over the long term. Photo courtesy of Sof Surfaces


It is estimated that over 70 percent of playground injuries are due to falls to the surface. Unfortunately, and in spite of our best efforts, the very nature of children’s play makes falls to the surface inevitable. In light of this, protective surfacing options remain one of the most overlooked and under evaluated aspects of playground design.

Playground surfacing is as diverse as the equipment placed upon it. The many different types of surfacing available can be generally broken down into two main categories consisting of loose fill and unitary materials.

There are many loose fill materials in use today such as wood chips, pea stone, sand, bark mulch, rubber mulch and engineered wood fiber (EWF).

The primary advantages associated with loose fill materials include the lower initial costs as well as the favorable initial impact attenuation ratings. The initial advantages however are limited by the generally high life cycle costs associated with regular maintenance and replenishment requirements needed to ensure that the surface remains in compliance with current safety standards.

The second category, unitary surfacing, consists of two major types of products including poured in place (PIP) and prefabricated mats or tiles.

Poured in place (PIP) surfacing is a dual density system consisting of a low density base course and a higher density top wear course. The poured in place system is mixed, leveled and finished on site by specially trained installation personnel representing the manufacturer.

The second prevalent unitary surfacing option is prefabricated product supplied in a mat or tile form. These materials are generally made from a combination of recycled and virgin rubber combined with a polyurethane resin. Unlike poured in place that is field manufactured, this product is compression molded in a manufacturing environment prior to being shipped to the playground for installation.

Unitary surfacing offers many functional advantages including low maintenance and low life cycle costs. Since the material is unitary in nature, extensive maintenance is not required in order to maintain consistent fall protection and wheelchair mobility. Within the unitary category pre-manufactured product supplied in mat or tile form are seen to offer additional advantages involving cost consistency and durability.

In order to ensure that your surfacing product exceeds in the critical performance categories, the following questions should form an integral part of your product inquiry.

  1. Does the surface comply with current ADA standards?
  2. Does the surface meet the latest standard for impact attenuation?
  3. What test results did the surface achieve at the specified fall requirement?
  4. How long is the surface guaranteed to meet the F1292-04 standard?
  5. How long is the surface guaranteed against defects in material and workmanship?

When shopping for a safety surface, the initial purchase price is an important consideration, but even more important is the actual cost of the surface projected over a period of years. More often than not, lower initial priced surfaces end up being the higher priced option in the long term due to extensive maintenance and replenishment costs.



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December 7, 2019, 4:33 am PDT

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