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Playground Safety and Shade Structures

By Arthur Mittelstaedt, Jr., LASN associate editor, EdD, Lawrence Feeley Jr., AlA






The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends shade be a part of safe playground design and use. Over 90 percent of skin cancers may be prevented by minimizing UV exposure, says the AAD. Canopies or shades are mostly made of specially engineered woven polyethylene fabric, are laboratory tested and proven to block over 90 percent of solar radiation, yet are breathable.
Project: Inspirada Phase I, neighborhood park, south Las Vegas. Shade structures by Sun Ports/Shade America, Inc.


Shade structures are an important feature in playground development today. They provide a focal point for parents to congregate while attending to their children. They are a place to work with children on crafts; teach table games; a place for children to play and interact, while being sheltered from UV/solar rays and reducing reflective glare.

Shade structures can attach directly on play equipment to provide unique shapes, color, design, themes and interest. Some companies can provide inset metal roofing with laser cut ornaments to complement site features and then to enable the owner to customize their shelters and site furnishings to fit the specific theme of their architectural project.

Coverings over tables are ideal from protecting families from quick rain showers or the sun. Covers or roofs over equipment are not intended to keep kids out of the rain, as children should be prohibited from playing on wet equipment. An aesthetic purpose has been the principal impetus for the addition of roofs over play equipment. However, these roof structures are being encouraged to protect children from too much sun. At an ASTM F-15.26 meeting last year, Dr. Elewski, president of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), provided some helpful information on this subject.

"AAD recommends, and studies confirm, that sun exposure is responsible for the development of at least two-thirds of all melanomas, the most deadly form of skin cancer. The earlier parents incorporate sun protection into their children's daily activities, the lower their children's lifetime risk will be for developing skin cancer, including melanoma. Over 90 percent of skin cancers can be prevented by minimizing UV exposure. Staying in the shade is one of the most effective ways to reduce sun exposure. Therefore, the AAD recommends that provisions for shade be made a part of safe playground design and use."






Some obstacle-free shade structures combine broad fabric canopies attached to steel support frames. They are engineered to connect directly to playground equipment, providing shade while eliminating obstructive ground posts. Some can replace standard equipment roofs and meet requirements of ASTM and CPSC.
Photo courtesy of Boundless Playgrounds. Project site: Miami-Dade County.


Shade in the playgrounds needs to be a common design element. AAD highly recommends that there be maximum continuous shade over the primary play area between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If fabric provides the shade, it must block a minimum of 93 percent of UVA and UVB radiation. Shade trees also can be used to provide some protection."

The publication Health Wise has separated ultraviolet light to its two forms: A and B (UVA and UVB) rays in the following comparison:

UVACan pass through window glass o Is not affected by a change in altitude or weather o Is present all day, every day of the year o Penetrates deep into skin o Comprises five percent of the sun's rays o Is 20 times more abundant than UVB rays o Affects long-term skin damage.

UVBCannot pass through window glass o Causes sunburn / tanning o Helps the body with vitamin D production o Is most intense in the summer and at midday o Varies with weather conditions o Is more intense at high altitudes or nearer the equator o Accounts for half of the sun's rays o Is protected against by the Sunscreens with high SPFs (sun protection factors) can be effective against UVB o Is related to more than 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers o Is related to cataracts.

The sun's UV rays are incredibly potent. Within five minutes on a sunny day, skin may absorb enough UV radiation to develop minor sunburn. In even less time, skin cells may suffer injury neither seen nor felt. Multiply this over the years and the damage from daily sun exposure may become major, including skin cancer and sun-induced skin aging. For a medically sun sensitive person, the long-term results can be even more threatening.

Although UVA rays are inherently less powerful, small daily doses of UVA can cause long-term skin injury, even without signs of sunburn. UVB rays are most abundant at midday, or when a person's shadow is shorter than the person. These UVB rays are those most associated with sunburn.

Almost all of the body is susceptible to sun injury, even when a person is wearing typical summer clothing. Therefore, the medical community recommends full head-to-toe sun protection and a minimum SPF 15 (SPF 30 if sun sensitive). Clothing should provide greater total UVA/UVB sun protection than usual typical summer clothing or a typical 30 SPF sunscreen.

A typical sunscreen with a 30 SPF rating supposedly lets a person stay outdoors 30 times longer or for some 30 minutes longer than one could without sun protection before a minimal sunburn. It still allows a lot of harmful UVA radiation to the skin. Published medical studies show most people apply only one-third to one-half of the recommended amount of sunscreen.

Many fail to regularly reapply sunscreen even though they continue to stay in the sun. Sunscreen is essential, but it is far from a perfect defense against the sun.






Within five minutes on a sunny day, skin may absorb enough UV radiation to develop minor sunburn. In even less time, skin cells may suffer injury neither seen nor felt. There are many permanent and temporary or "pop-up" shelters for playgrounds. The temporary type can be easily set up.
Project: Inspirada Phase I, neighborhood park, south Las Vegas. Shade structures by Sun Ports/Shade America, Inc.


Clothing has been designed by and for some of the most medically sun sensitive people in the world. The fabric should block more than 97 percent of UVA and UVB rays.

The AAD recognizes sun precautions like clothing with a 30+ SPF sun protection built into the fabric. After 100 laundering cycles and exposure to roughly 100 summer days of sunlight, this clothing should continue to provide 30+ SPF protection, unlike treated clothing that can wash off or wear off over time. Typical summers shirts are short sleeved and have little or no collar, leaving arms and neck dangerously exposed. They provide an SPF of five to nine, far below the minimum 15 SPF recommended by dermatologists.

It is reported that people spending many hours outdoors, especially during the summer, have an increased risk of developing cataracts and cornea problems and other age-related eye conditions.

"The thinning ozone layer of the Earth's atmosphere has resulted in increased levels of UV light, leading to changes in the eye," says Bruce Rosenthal, chief of low vision problems at Lighthouse International, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing vision loss and helping the visually disabled. "To prevent irreversible damage to the eyes that my lead to macular degeneration and other conditions, people of all ages should wear sunglasses as well as hats or visors."

Lens color and price have little correlation with the amount of protection, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Lighthouse International offers the following tip for choosing safe sunglass models for children and adults: Dark lenses do not necessarily offer ultraviolet protection.

Check for labeling that says the lenses absorb 99 to 100 percent of UV light, particularly UV-B. An ultraviolet-blocking coating can be placed on any lens, regardless of the degree of tint, but a coating does not block as much UV light as the protective lens.






Roofs are one shade option for the playground. The ASTM F-1487 Standard Subcommittee is considering a proposal to Section 8.14 on playground roof structures. Among the suggestions are that roof support members be designed to discourage climbing and the roofs be more than the seven feet high.
Photo courtesy of Askew Hargraves Harcourt and Associates, Inc. Project: Pickett Park, Memphis.


Roofs

The ASTM F-1487 Standard Subcommittee is considering a proposal to Section 8.14 on playground roof structures. The suggestions include:

  • Roofs that are an integral part of a play structure may be at any angle, provided the roofline, excluding structural members, is at least seven feet above the play surface. Roofs that are an integral part of a play structure less than seven feet above the play surface level shall contain no designated play surfaces.
  • Support members shall be designed to discourage climbing and have no designated play surfaces.
  • Roofs do not have a fall height requirement.
  • Roofs above the play surface should not be designed to make the structure accessible and should be more than the seven feet high.
  • The roof should not be susceptible to vandalism, such as being cut. Though not for use to stand upon, roofs should have a specified structural integrity.
  • Roofs should not be adjacent to other structures that form a step or bridge to other play structure elements. There should be nonclimbable vertical or horizontal support members included in the design. This or similar modification to the F 1487 standard should allow new creativity in the play environment.

There are many permanent and temporary or "pop-up" shelters for playgrounds. The temporary type can be set up by a playground attendant when large attendance or groups use the facility. Some obstacle-free shade structures combine broad fabric canopies attached to steel support frames. They are engineered to connect directly to playground equipment, providing shade while eliminating obstructive ground posts. Some can replace standard equipment roofs and meet requirements of ASTM and CPSC.

Canopies or shades are mostly made of specially engineered woven polyethylene fabric, are laboratory tested and proven to block over 90 percent of solar radiation, yet is a breathable covering.

Permanent structures can be of more classic design covering assembly or sitting areas, providing for cabinets, signboards and other purposes. Tent-type structures with cable tension systems also use porous, high- density polyethylene and create no guys, poles or stakes. One company provides a pivoting sundial type of parasol that moves to block the sun wherever it is in the sky. Some units integrate windscreens, filter skylight and awning systems. Shade structures also add color and texture to a playground. Almost every color scheme can be developed using nonpermanent and permanent shades that can fit into a themed layout or scheme shapes to identify individual playgrounds.

All structures should be durable, fire retardant, wind resistant or removable, adjustable/adaptable/retractable and be guaranteed for a designated period so that the administrator can plan for its replacement.

All stainless steel connections, hardware, parts and the fabric should be vandal resistant with supplied tools for erecting or assembling, disassembling the units in storm conditions. Fabric coverings are generally removed for storage during seasonal nonuse periods.

Shade structures can provide an endless variety of imaginative designs, add visual interest and profile to the play environment while protecting children and parents/guides from UV exposure.







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October 23, 2019, 10:35 pm PDT

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