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Playgrounds and Maintenance

Playgrounds, their surface, equipment and environs must be thoroughly maintained to provide a safe experience for children.

By Arthur Mittelstaedt Jr., EdD, executive director, recreation Safety Institute

"Shoulds": no protruding hardware or sharp edges on structures; fencing--at least six feet from equipment; trees--free of debris, nests, dead branches; seats/benches--secure, free of splinters; shelters and signage not climbable; trash receptacles--enclosed and sprayed;--not climbable.

Regular maintenance of the playground surface is important for impact attenuation and accessibility. Reduction of thickness, compaction contamination with other materials and environmental degradation cause the surface to fail to meet initial standards.

Playground Surface

A combination of manufacturer recommended maintenance and performance testing while in service are the only assurance the surfacing will limit the severity and reduce the likelihood of a life-threatening and debilitating injury.

The Franklin Institute, in its study for the National Rec and Park Association, indicated that with the exception of wetting and packing one sand sample, no effort was made in its study of impact attenuation to simulate the wide variety of maintenance conditions that can alter the performance of the materials, such as moisture content, severe temperatures, displacement, material fatigue and variance in similar types of products.

Surfacing must remain in place under all conditions of normal use; provide abrasive resistance; repel insects and red ants; discourage small rodents, snakes and lizards; deter sharp debris; avoid harboring disease-producing microorganism, bacteria; be economical; be easy to clean and replace sections; free of toxic chemicals, lead, etc.; flame resistant; not susceptible to vandalism; permeable or shedding water; drain properly; easily contained or edged; wheelchair accessible; transportable and easy to install.

Standards set forth the specifications of the manufacturer but do not necessarily cover surface maintenance. The owner/operator should maintain a specification log of the surface material and conditions.

The Safety Surface Spec Log should contain:

  1. Product name as advertised. Often manufacturers change product names or reformulate and reconfigure the product.
  2. All contact info of manufacturer. A manufacturer may sell its line to another company or go out of business.
  3. Batch or tracking information used by the manufacturer to respond to a bid specification.
  4. The safety surface test date. Request the tracking number.
  5. Name of lab that performed tests. Have an engineer's certification the product was tested in accordance with the buyer's specifications.
  6. The test format. Note the test results be submitted in accordance with the format set forth in the referenced ASTM Standards.
  7. The date of the specification to bid and purchase the product, confirming the submission by the contractors was complete.
  8. The bid date and the project.
  9. Drawings and details of the surface.
  10. The date of purchase or approval. Often bids are let but awards and even purchases are delayed.
  11. The date the product was received on the job and the manner and amount delivered.
  12. The date and manner the installation was started and completed.
  13. Verification that installation subcontractor is experience and name of responsible person on the job submitted.
  14. The completion date of project. Most warrantees use this date.

Safety Surfacing Manufacturers Technical Submissions Analyzes

The specification log should require the manufacturer submit:

a) Written instructions for base or subsurface preparation and condition placement and installing/cutting/fitting care and cleaning.

b) Drawings and details conveying: base or subsurface cross-section; layout fastenings (anchoring) and connecting; bonding and adhesive material; joint filler/caulking.

c) Bill of materials: size, thickness, color, layout of materials.

d) Treatment of edges, ends, comers (inside and outside), abutting structures, columns, drainage utility drain, valve boxes and manholes.

e) Lab test reports:

  1. Impact attenuation (F 1292-04)
  2. Specified heights
  3. Slip resistance (ASTM E-303)
  4. Weathering (ASTM C-67)
  5. Flame resistance (ASTM E-648)

f) Details of anchor system.

g) Adhesive specs.

Regular maintenance of the playground surface is important. Extremes of sunlight, temperature, moisture/wetness, smog/acid rain and heavy use can compromise the surface's impact attenuation. The specifier should be alert to the compliance of three ASTM standards: Impact Attenuation, Handicapped Accessibility and Engineered Wood Fibers.

Safety Surface: Manufacturer's Process/Product Quality Checks

The manufacturer should list any quality controls, such as satisfying membership requirements in IPEMA; satisfy ISO standards; certify installers; indicate the product is exclusive to original owner; sign-off on installation.

Safety Surface: Manufacturer's Distribution/Installation Method

Where was the product inventoried and for how long? How rapid is product turned over? The specific steps and uses the manufacturer requires the installers to take in placing, fitting, cutting and securing the material should be noted.

Play Surface Inspection Maintenance Analyses

The purchaser should have an inspection form to note defects and the manufacture's recommendations to remove dirt and debris, clean joints, treat chemicals, soda and other spills, and apply all-purpose or manufacturer-special cleaner.


Regular maintenance of the playground equipment and its elements and hardware is important for safety and accessibility. The ASTM F-1487 attempted to set maintenance requirements in the standard, but this has not been achieved. An owner/operator should maintain a log of the equipment and its condition should any defects appear and the manufacturer be notified.

Play Unit Log (should include):

Product name; manufacturer; subname; test info (date, lab, format); buyer's specification and bid date; buyer's specification drawing/bid date; purchase, delivery, installation and completion date.

Technical submission analyses to lab for certification:

  1. Written instructions on installation
  2. Drawing and details for installation
  3. Bill of materials
  4. Treatment of connections
  5. Lab test reports
  6. Footing system and measurements

Manufacturer's process/product quality checks; warrantees; distribution/installation methods; inspection maintenance analyses with same inspection form.


Many playground elements are not controlled by ASTM or other specifications, however, few features have maintenance-related guidelines:

  • Fencing: should meet requirements as set forth, including being at least six feet from equipment.
  • Trees: should be free of debris, nest, dead branches and conform to conditions of the American Arborists Association.
  • Seats/benches: should be secure, free of splinters, protruding screws or bolts and sharp edges.
  • Turf: for small games, cooling down and rest can be natural or synthetic turf but should meet standards of the turf industry or the synthetic turf council.
  • Shelters: for sun protection should not be climbable and have no sharp edges or protruding hardware.
  • Trash receptacles: should be sprayed and enclosed to keep flying insects and rodents out.
  • Landscape walls and curbs: should separate age group areas and be of appropriate construction to eliminate quick disrepair.
  • Utility boxes: should be away from play areas.
  • Drinking fountains: should be out of the circulation flow, have paved surfaces and adequately drained.
  • Signage: should not be climbable nor installed with protruding bolts.

Develop a specific checklist with the assistance of the designer and specifier and establish a regular routine of inspection.

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December 10, 2019, 7:35 pm PDT

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