Play It Safe With Playground Surfaces
Proper resilient surfacing could be the easiest way to prevent serious injuries on public playgrounds. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has estimated that nearly 70% of all playground injuries are caused by falls to the underlying surface.
While current safety guidelines and standards require playground safety surfacing under and around all playground equipment, the decisions on the type, thickness, installation method, drainage requirements, maintenance required, and accessibility can severely complicate the issue. Since falls is the surface is number one cause of playground injuries, the decisions around the safety surfacing choice could possibly the most important decision made about the overall playground design.
Long term costs; which could include maintenance, repairs, and replacement should be considered when choosing a material for your playground surface. Be sure to research thoroughly your options and make an informed decision. Depending on the safety surfacing material chosen, the cost for the surface could be more than the cost for the equipment is to be going under.
Loose fill and organic materials, such as engineered wood fiber (EWF) materials will require far more maintenance than other unitary surfaces such as rubber tiles or poured-in-place rubber. However, the cost for unitary surfacing is significantly higher than it is for loose fill resilient playground safety surfaces.
Considerations for evaluation of any playground safety surface:
While unitary surfaces are low maintenance, they do require some maintenance and they will degrade and need replacement over time depending on usage, exposure to the sun, colors chosen, drainage issues, and other factors.
Another important decision when choosing a unitary playground surface is the material color. Dark colors will absorb more heat than lighter colors keeping the surface warmer. While lighter colors will remain cooler, they will show dirt and blemishes more easily. A blend of colors, some lighter and some darker, could be a way for some clients to maximize the advantages and disadvantages of light vs dark colors. Also, earth tone colors tend to resist UV color degradation more than brighter colors.
The table above is from the CPSC Public Playground Safety Handbook. As the above playground safety surfacing depths are minimums, we recommend a depth of approximately 25% more than the above chart minimum depths to account for kick-out under heavy wear areas, such as under swing seats and at slide exits.