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Playgrounds and Safety Surface Adequacy

By Dr. Arthur H. Mittelstaedt, Jr., EdD

The increasing focus on playground safety has resulted in the ASTM F1292-04 Standard Specification for Impact Attenuation of Surfacing Materials within the Use Zone of Playground Equipment. For a surface to meet the standard, it must provide readings below certain numbers at a prespecified height. Many surfaces, such a wood chips, comply with the current standard, provided they are installed to the manufacturer's specifications. However, surfaces such as packed dirt, gravel and asphalt do not.

The Franklin Institute in its study for the National Recreation and Park Association for the submission to CPSC indicated that with the exception of wetting and packing one sand sample, no effort was made to simulate the wide variety of conditions that may alter the performance of play surface materials, such as moisture content, severe temperatures, displacement of the materials, material fatigue and variances in similar types of products.

SurfacePlays says their colorful wall-to-wall like carpets (patent pending) are durable and made of 100 percent polypropylene with a fine sand infill. The infill sand allows instant water drainage. The sand is brushed during the final installation phase and is held firmly in place by the random nature of the needle-punched fibers designed to hold the sand for long-term usage. The carpet forms the top surface layer and underneath are specially-designed geo-textile pads and recycled rubber granules to assist in absorbing the impact of falls.
Photo courtesy of SurfacePlay.

Other characteristics of the surfacing material should be considered in addition to the energy-absorbing capacity. These include, but are not necessarily limited to some behavioral safety and other operational measures:

  • Durable under the extremes of: sunlight, temperature, moisture/wetness, smog and climatic toxic elements, and heavy use.
  • Able to remain in place under all conditions of normal use.
  • Resists abrasiveness yet provide nonslip friction.
  • Repels insects (bees, yellow jackets, hornets and red ants).
  • Discourages small rodents, snakes and lizards.
  • Deters broken glass, pin nails and other debris.
  • Avoids harboring disease-producing micro-organism, bacteria, and viruses from feces.
  • Economical in cost.
  • Ease of cleaning.
  • Ease of replacement of damaged partsor pieces.
  • Free from toxic chemicals, lead, etc.
  • Flame resistance.
  • Nonsusceptible to attracting vandals.
  • Permeable or sheds water.
  • Ease of cleaning.
  • Ease of drainage.
  • Easily contained or edged.
  • Accessible for wheelchairs.
  • Transportability.
  • Ease in installation.

When landscape architects specify safety surfacing foremost in their minds is complying with ASTM standards, but they also should consider such factors as climate extremes, low-maintenance requirements, withstanding heavy foot traffic and incidental vandalism.
Photo courtesy of SurfacePlay.

The following information should be compiled by the owner/operator and maintained in a file on the project with all accompanying information. The owner/operator shall require that with each safety surface material the following information is provided by the manufacturer and its representative.

This is not in the standard but assures that the product has met the ASTM standard specification.

  • Safety surface manufacturer name, address, and contact info.
  • Installer name and contact info.
  • Year safety surface was--formulated, molded/poured tested by manufacturer's laboratory and its certification credentials. lot specified by the owner/operator, bid by the owner/operator, purchased by the owner/operator, delivered by the manufacturer.
  • Year/month safety surface was installed by a) in-house maintenance (who); b) contractor (name); c) subcontractor (name).
  • Year safety surface installer was certified by manufacturer (trained).
  • Year/month safety surface samples were packaged/shipped for testing by manufacturer's laboratory.
  • Playground site and location study or plan by licensed professional within perimeter of safety use zones.
  • Manufacturer's laboratory report of data--temp., drop heights, readings, etc.
  • Owner/operator specifications for each safety surface manufacturer.
  • Safety surface manufacturer's warrantee.
  • Submissions by installation contractors of change orders or
    other requests.
  • Details/cross-sections, drawings in owner/operator's construction plans.

Little has been done in the writing of standards to put responsibilities on the owner/operator and its agents. Administrators, purchasing officials, playground leaders, inspectors, as well as licensed professionals planning, designing, engineering and supervising the installation of safety surfaces, have no standard specifications or guides to require their attention to such safety measures or implementing the requirements of safety oriented standards. More has to be done.

Surfacing Safety Considerations

By Gil Grubber, Direct Objective Consulting, for SurfacePlay, Laval, Quebec, Canada

Here are five important tips to ensure your playground safety:

  1. Make sure play structures that are more than 30 inches high are spaced at least nine feet apart.
  2. Verify that the surfaces around playground equipment have at least 12 inches of protective material that has been approve for ASTM F1292 for Impact Attenuation of Surface Systems under and around playground equipment.
  3. Check that protective surfacing extends at least six feet in all directions from play equipment. For swings, be sure surfacing extends in back and front twice the height of the suspending bar.
  4. Make certain that elevated surfaces, like platforms and ramps, have guardrails to prevent falls.
  5. Examine playground surfaces regularly to ensure that the surface is in good condition and that the surface is clean from debris.

Source: CPSC and NPP

Surfacing Material Considerations

Looking at the various surfacing materials available in the market, the table below explores the material characteristics and compliance of different materials.

Green= Yes (compliance)
Red= No (noncompliance)
Orange= Partial compliance

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December 10, 2019, 7:06 pm PDT

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