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Playground Safety and Wet Play Equipment-- Part II

By Arthur Mittelstaedt Jr., Ed.D and Paul Bosch

Equipment and devices should have a level water depth based on the age group using the equipment. Inhaled water can cause drowning at any depth, though, inexplicably, local codes don't always require life guards. Mark Hatchel, RLA, ASLA (Kimley-Horn, Dallas), the landscape architect designer for this park, the Bedford Splash, Texas, segregated the waterplay areas by age group. The water depth for the toddler is 0-6 inches; the leisure family pool depth is only 18 inches; and the lap pool for competition is 3.5 feet deep.

As the family leisure aquatic field expands manufacturers and designers have introduced a new water play experience. The new water play devices and equipment are numerous as are their settings--dry deck pools, spray decks, spray pools and bubbling wading pools.

All surfaces should be slip resistant. ASTM F1679 and F1677 are the most effective methods to assess slip-resistance based on today's current science, according to OSHA. A walking nonskid surface is defined by the National Bureau of Standards Publication 89.5. It should have a .5 coefficient of friction.

Safety Features for Wet Equipment/Devices and Features

An array of safety performance requirements for wet equipment should be considered:

  • Head and Neck Entrapment are any accessible openings of a dimension that produces the risk of accidental head or neck injury by either a head first or feet first entry into the opening. There are definitive sizes and test procedures adapted from F1487.
  • Sharp Points and Sharp Edges can prick, cut, tear or injury a child. There are definitive measurements for sharpness. Protrusions may cut into or indent soft tissues and cause injury. There are definitive measurements for projections.
  • Pinch, Crush and Shear Points are caused by junctures of two components moving relative to one another or at an opening present at the junction of a stationary support cause injury. There are definitive measurements for such conditions.
  • Suspended Hazards are those where a single-ridged component suspended between units or from the ground can cause injury if not brightly colored or contract. There are specific criteria for such situations.
  • Surfaces--Equipment and devices should have no unsafe surfaces within the wet area. All surfaces to which a child could fall shall be of a resilient or padded surface constructed of materials that meet all of the UV coating requirement and shall not retain or hold water or leach any chemicals that could affect water chemistry.
  • Wet Decks--Play surfaces surrounding interactive aquatic play equipment that is intended to be wet.
  • Decks--The surface surrounding the wet deck but not intended to be wet or for play. All surfaces should be slip resistant using a standard slipperiness test method. According to OSHA, "ASTM F1679 and F1677 are the most effective methods to assess slip-resistance based on today's current science. There are no other recognized testing methods which have the same level of performance as these tribometers for wet surfaces." A walking nonskid surface is defined by the National Bureau of Standards Publication 89.5 which should have a .5 coefficient of friction (COF).
  • Structures--All touching surfaces should be slip resistant, nonabrasive and slope to drain (or incorporate self-draining features in order to keep standing water off the structure), unless the structure or portions thereof is specifically designed to accommodate water.
  • Zero Depth Decks--All walking surfaces should be slip-resistant in and around the equipment.
  • Submerged Pavements--Submerged walking surfaces which beneath and around equipment should be slip resistant and conform to applicable pool standards for floor finishes.
  • Edges--Equipment and devices shall have no corner or angular edges. Surfaces and edges of all elements should be rounded or beveled to a minimum 1/8” radius. No sharp edges on accessible areas of the structure should be on platforms, stairs, pipes, handles and valves.
  • Controls--Equipment and devices that have mechanical moving parts should not have parts that can hit or catch a person.
  • Valves--Equipment and devices should have a shut off valve to allow the operator to control the water and pressure to every water effect. One valve may control more than one water effect. The equipment valve should not be accessible to the general public. The control valve can and may be in another valve that the public may use to control the water pressure, but the control valve should always be upstream from the publicly accessible valve so that the public may never obtain a higher pressure from the water effect or source than has been set by owner, operator, contractor or manufacturer at the control valve. Where several control valves are required for multiple water effects, a manifold combining them into one “control manifold” is preferred over various multiple locations of control valves.
  • Water Depth--Equipment and devices should have a level water depth based on the age group using the equipment. Inhaled water can cause drowning at any water depth, though, inexplicably, local codes may not require life guards.
  • Water Clarity--Equipment and devices using water should be clean and meet all health department standards at all inlets.
  • Ground Fault--Equipment and devices using electricity near the wet area should incorporate a ground fault detection system to prevent water electric current.
  • Corrosion, Rust--Equipment and devices should have resistance to corrosion and rust caused by chemicals and UV light.
  • Trip Reveals--Equipment and devices on surfaces of working areas where at the juncture of pavements should have no settlement or expansion and joints that could become trip hazards.
  • Overhead Angles/Beams--Equipment and devices with overhead parts where children and adults often run under or around should have overhead angles/beams of sufficient clearance height.
  • Steps--Equipment or devices encouraging movement from one component to another should require the riser-tread ratio be for the designated age group and not irregular or oversized so as to affect the gait.
  • Handgrips--Equipment or devices which require the traversing of an object with overhead, ahead or side handgrip systems should have an even spacing of handgrips to maintain a continuity of movement.
  • Handrails--Equipment or devices that require movement along a component part or up from one level to another should have a barrier system.
  • Slope/Pitch--Equipment or devices that have gradient component parts should be of a height as not to have a child lose control and balance but to maneuver unhesitantly.
  • Barrier--Equipment or devices which have a fall level at elevations 18” or above a surface should have barriers to prevent falls and a perimeter barrier around the area.
  • Platform--Equipment or devices should have platforms between activities stations that are of a size to accommodate three children under 12 or three adults over 12 depending upon the equipment age related purpose.
  • Hardware--Equipment or devices should have hardware without harmful hazards but smooth to the touch without pits, slivers or unfinished toolings.
  • Climbeability/Hand-Toe Holds--Equipment or devices should not have any holes or mesh sizes that could aid climbing.
  • Sliding Poles/Ropes/Columns--Equipment or devices using sliding poles, ropes etc should have a fall zone measured from the top of the part.
  • Nets--Equipment or devices using netting should conform to the ASTM F-8 standard on enclosed trampoline nets to prohibit climbing.
  • Hot Heat Retaining/Absorbing--Equipment or devices with finishes that can absorb, retard or create heat should not be present unless an appropriate finish is applied.
  • Glare--Equipment or devices with finishes that create reflection or glare should be prohibited. The surfaces under all wet equipment should be on safety surfacing complying with F1292. Such wetplay equipment is to have a corresponding fall height measured from the highest point upon which a child or adult may climb, sit or stand. The wet play equipment area should also contain safety signals conforming to the following insert.
  • Popular types of raised equipment may be designed to represent animals, ships, fish, trains, etc. Regardless of configuration, the spacing of support members and potential climbing hand and footholds should be eliminated. Rungs or rails, if used on components where it is intended to for stability and gripped by the hands, should be designed to be easily grasped by a child’s hands. Preferably the components should be cylindrical and of a diameter to allow average-size children to comfortably and securely can grip. There should be no units climbable except as specified in the standard.

Raised equipment should not lure a child to make any sort of climb. Highly textured, slip-resistant materials may enhance a child’s gripping ability while at the same time increasing the amount of sensory feedback received while climbing.

A free, swinging rope can cause serious injury if a child’s head hits an adjacent object. Such an impact can also result when children wander into the path of a swinging rope. Support frames for all swing devices or suspended members designed to discourage climbing and meet the specific standards.

Yes! Wet play equipment is safe when complying with these guidelines and the ASTM standards.

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December 14, 2019, 7:52 am PDT

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