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Supplement Feature - September 2014

We All Fall Down

Education, Maintenance Key to Playground Surface Safety

By Deborah L. Vence


Falls to the surface are the number one cause of injury on the playground, which is why it's so important that those surfaces are maintained regularly and composed of the appropriate materials to maximize safety and prevent serious injuries.

"The most common cause for unsafe surfaces would be lack of maintenance and education about the particular type of surface they are using. The best thing a playground owner can do is to do their homework about what will be needed for their surfacing, and then come up with a program to maintain it," said Jeff Mrakovich, director of surfacing products for a Middletown, Pa.-based company that specializes in playground surfacing.

A big trend exists right now toward surfaces that provide safety ratings that are below the maximum allowable limits in the AS F1292 standards.

"Much of this has been brought about through education, and there is no doubt that buyers today are much more educated when it comes to purchasing decisions related to playground surfacing," said Jeromy Morningstar, managing director for a company that provides playground tiles and rubber safety surfacing for playgrounds, green roofs, gym flooring and more, based in Petrolia, Ontario, Canada.

Evolution of Playground Safety

Falls to the surface are the number one cause of injury on the playground, which is why it's so important that those surfaces are maintained regularly and composed of the appropriate materials to maximize safety and prevent serious injuries.

In recent years it was thought that as long as a surface passed what's called the impact attenuation test—AS F1292—it was safe and no other standards were needed.

For instance, engineered wood fiber is very common in many playgrounds and thought to be just ground-up wood. But, "Not so fast," the ASTM-F08 subcommittee on playground surfaces said. "Since some producers started grinding up raw material from waste wood like pallets, there became a concern about tramp metals, such as nails, staples and hazardous metals, such as lead, mercury and arsenic," Mrakovich said.

"And, what about accessibility? If the wood is not ground properly to a fibrous consistency, it may not knit together to form a firm, stable surface," he said.

"So, a standard specifically for engineered wood fiber was born (AS F2075), which included testing for tramp metals, hazardous metals and sieve criteria," he explained.

Now, a new standard exists specifically for loose-fill rubber, which contains a test method for tramp metals and hazardous metals, and another standard is in process for poured-in-place rubber that will include a wear test. So, standards have become more specific to different types of surfaces to prevent problems that could occur with them so playground owners can include these test methods within their purchasing requirements.

"There was a time when buyers would accept any HIC [head injury criterion] measurement as long as it was below the required 1,000," Morningstar said. "But, people now recognize that a surface tested at 975 on day one, for example, is highly unlikely to be in compliance for very long, and, perhaps, not even through its first season.

Awareness related to surfacing standards also has been helped along by the introduction of field testing.

"Field testing has changed the way people think about safety surfacing because test results on actual installed playground surfaces are now much easier to obtain," Morningstar said. "This not only provides an opportunity for parties interested in their surface's results, but it also provides a mechanism for buyers to ensure that they get what they specified before they pay for their surface."

And, "Another consequence, I suppose, is that the potential to expose unsafe surfaces is much more of a reality," Morningstar added.

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