Protecting Children From Falls on the Playground
While you can't protect children from every risk on the playground, there is a lot you can do to reduce the risk of injury. Considering that more than 70 percent of playground injuries are caused by falls to the surface, you should give careful consideration to what goes underneath the equipment. Protective surfacing comes in a wide variety of types, from loose fill like wood and rubber mulch to unitary and tile surfaces made of rubber and other materials.
Whatever type of surfacing you choose, you need to know some basics to ensure you're providing the maximum protection for the children.
Q: What should we know about safety surfaces and fall protection?
A: Playground safety surfaces are evaluated according to ASTM F1292-04, a standard that applies to the impact-absorbing properties of the surface. Two key measurements, HIC and Gmax, are taken, both of which relate to the surface's ability to absorb impact or cushion falls. You should be able to find a wide variety of surfaces that will do the job, as long as they are installed according to the manufacturer's specifications. Be sure to stay away from surfaces like packed dirt, grass, gravel or asphalt.
It is important to note that the current standards require safety surfaces to be rated to protect children who fall from the height of playground equipment platforms. Of course, these platforms generally have a 3-foot railing to protect kids from going over the edge. Where problems arise is when children play on the equipment in a manner that is not consistent with design intent. How often have you seen kids climbing the rails to reach the top or running down the slides?
Children naturally take risks on the playground, and inevitably some will fall from a height above the platform. This means it might be wise to consider increasing fall protection to protect children falling from these higher areas.
Q: How do we know that the surface we're considering will be effective?
A: A surface that protects from falls higher than the platform is a good idea because of the way kids play. You should consider a system that provides ASTM F1292-04 test results that are better than the upper allowable limit.
Why? If you purchase a surface that performs better than the requirement, you can rest assured that your surface will continue to comply with the standards over time. It is also important to remember that there will inevitably be differences between a surface's performance in a lab and the conditions at your site. Variables such as age, moisture, maintenance, temperature extremes, ultraviolet light, contamination with other materials, compaction, loss of thickness, shrinkage, flooding and more can have an impact on the surface's real-world performance.
For this reason, you also may want to consider having your surface tested on site after installation. This will ensure that your installed surface passes the test requirements and meets the claims of the manufacturer.
Considering the normal wear and tear, as well as the unique conditions of your site, a surface that just passes muster could be out of compliance in a short time. Looking for HIC results of 800 or lower and Gmax results of 150 or lower to ensure your surface is performing well now and in the long term.
Q: How can we be sure the surface will still be safe in a year, or in five years?
A: Be sure to ask your supplier how their surface will handle the specific environment at your site, and how well it will meet standards in the long term. Some manufacturers will guarantee that their surface will continue to exceed the ASTM 1292-04 standard requirements over many years.
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