Ensure Your Playground Surface Performance
One of the most important steps you can take to protect children from harm on the playground is selecting a safety surface that will perform as promised. Most injuries that occur on the playground happen when children fall to the surface. Not all surfaces provide the same level of protection. What's more, once they're installed, playground safety surfaces may not be as effective as expected. But you can take steps to ensure that your playground safety surface is doing its job.
Q: We are planning to purchase a playground safety surface, and are making our selection based on the manufacturers' descriptions of the various surfaces' performance and effectiveness. Isn't that good enough?
A: Most surface manufacturers will be able to provide you with third-party test reports that demonstrate the safety performance numbers achieved by their product. But that doesn't mean that the surface will achieve the same level of performance at your site. There are a number of factors that can have an impact on the surface's effectiveness once it's installed. And many surfaces fail to meet safety standards after just a few years of use.
Talk with your manufacturer about making post-installation field testing a part of your contract for your new surface. Such testing will demonstrate how well the surface is performing for your specific site.
Q: What kinds of things can diminish the effectiveness of the safety surface? And how do we determine whether our surface is still up to standards?
A: The two main methods for measuring the effectiveness of safety surfaces include HIC and G-max. HIC or Head Injury Criterion is a measure of impact severity, while G-max measures the maximum shock produced by an impact. Surfaces must test lower than 1000 HIC and 200 G-max, but these are maximum allowable thresholds. As soon as a surface exceeds either of these numbers, it is out of compliance with the standards, and should be repaired or replaced immediately.
Many factors can affect the rating over time, including exposure to UV light from the sun, weather and more. Some surfaces actually perform differently depending on the temperature outside. Be sure to talk to your manufacturer about the influence of such factors.
Simply finding a surface that tests below 1000 HIC and 200 G-max, therefore, might not be enough. You should look for a surface that can achieve much lower scores. In addition, you should perform field-testing on a regular basis, to be sure that the surface is still providing the level of protection you expect.
Q: What should we know about maintaining our safety surface to help ensure that it's continuing to provide the level of protection we expect?
A: Routine maintenance is crucial if you want to help ensure your surface's performance over time. Different types of materials require different approaches to maintenance. Loose-fill surfacing like rubber mulch or wood fiber may require daily maintenance if your playground sees a lot of use. The loose fill needs to be raked back into place on a regular basis to ensure children are protected. Poured-in-place surfaces don't require such regular maintenance, but they can be difficult to repair if wear or damage occurs.
Safety tiles address both of these issues. No daily raking will be required as with loose fill, and at the same time, if an area gets damaged, you can simply replace the affected tiles.
With any surface, it is important to perform regular inspections. Look for wear or damage, and be sure to remove garbage and other debris.
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