Playgrounds are popular fixtures at parks everywhere and require proper maintenance so that they remain safe places for children to play. One of the most essential elements of playground safety is the foundation - or surface - of the playground. To help keep your recreational facilities safe, it's important to know some of the recent standards governing playground surfaces, as well as maintenance-related points.
Fight fall-related injuries with proper surfacing
According to KidsHealth, approximately 200,000 children are treated in emergency departments for injuries sustained on the playground every year and according to the National Program for Playground Safety, 70% of those injuries are due to falls.
In the past, creators of playgrounds have used asphalt as the surface material, but innovations in surface materials have led to new considerations and standards managers should be aware of. For example, it’s important to ensure the playground maintains compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and asphalt should be avoided in favor of safer surface options. These can vary from sand and pea gravel to poured rubber matting.
While there is no specific standard dictating which surface is regarded as the absolute “best," the NPPS pointed out a few things to consider when deciding how to fill a playground's surface. For example, if a playground consists primarily of climbing equipment used by small children, a rubberized floor material is be a good idea because it is soft enough to help break falls, fairly easy to maintain, and can be customized in an assortment of colors and patterns that appeal to children. Other loose-fill options such as wood fibers also tend to be popular choices.
Know how to properly maintain your playground's surface
According to Recreation Management, the most important factor in playground maintenance is performing frequent inspections. Locating and fixing maintenance issues both big and small with regards to equipment and surfaces is crucial to prevent accidents.
Loose-fill surface options are good for safety, but be sure to keep an eye out for hazards such as unbalanced or non-level areas. As kids move and play and surface material is shuffled or moved, it can create uneven ground areas, especially in high-traffic playground areas. These places are prime trip and fall hazards for kids.
Unitary surfacing - single-sheet or poured rubber mats or artificial turf - come with their own set of maintenance considerations. Unlike pits of pea gravel or sand, rubber surfaces must be kept clean and free of debris. In colder temperatures, it's also important to make sure that rubber mats don't freeze - this can cause them to harden, removing much of their safety benefit.
These are just a few considerations when thinking about selecting and maintaining playground surface materials. There are more great resources on this topic through publications like Recreation Management and Athletic Business.