Splash Play: Keeping It Safe
Designing a Safe Spray Park
We take our children and grandchildren to the local spray park to have a splashing good time with little consideration given to potential hazards. And that's the way it should be—because safety should be built in from the very beginning. When designing a new spray park, lead with an eye for safety even before selecting spray features.
Many safety organizations—such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), National Sanitation Foundation (NSF50), Certified Playground Safety Standards (CPSS) and International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA)—are influencing the spray park industry. Some of these organizations' standards are directed toward the dry playground and were not intended for spray park safety. Even so, they have influenced the design and safety of spray park features, equipment surfacing and surrounding amenities.
Keep the Waterpark Healthy
One of the wet industry's largest safety endeavors was undertaken by the CDC, which implemented the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) to combat waterborne illnesses such as Cryptosporidium parvum (crypto), giardia and E. coli. The MAHC established guidelines for splash pads and interactive fountains that use a water quality management system (WQMS), commonly referred to as a recirculation system. These recommendations include secondary UV treatment, rain diverter valves, restrooms, showers, surface area, signage, baby changing stations, and hand sanitizer dispensers
The MAHC is very detailed and precise, but currently it is not mandated by law. However, local and state health departments are slowly phasing in portions of the MAHC recommendations.
The MAHC guidelines were not created to cover potable, pass-through, flow-through or drain-to-waste spray parks. But it is still a smart idea to use them as a resource and, at the very least, install restrooms, baby changing stations, a proper surface and signage.
Make Room for Everyone
The good news is that spray parks tend to be very popular. So when budgeting for a new one, always budget larger than what is expected for attendance. Most suppliers of spray park equipment create their designs around the idea of one child per 25 square feet of wet spray area. This will allow children to roam freely and interact with others safely.
Additionally, ensure that the spray features chosen are ADA-compliant so all children can participate. The spray features should be placed according to age appropriateness and to encourage inclusive play.
Ensure Surface Safety
Spray parks should be fun without being slippery. The MAHC recommends a surface with the coefficient of friction equal to broom-finished concrete. Several manufactures supply surfacing that achieves this by using materials like EPDM rubber and polyurethane, aliphatic thermoplastic polyurethane pebbles or click-together tiles. Past performances of some of these surfaces has indicated chlorine usage will decompose the binders holding the surface together, although newer developments in binders have presented greater success.
A bigger issue is that this type of surface material has a tendency to harbor old algae and bacteria. Extra care needs to be taken to routinely spray the surface area with a disinfectant and cleaning chemical. If using a WQMS, this spray should not drain into the reservoir because it will contaminate the balanced water. It is also important to install a rain diverter valve for rain and cleanup as per the MAHC.
Keep the Water Fun
AS™ and MAHC have recommendations for water feature velocity, the speed at which the water is moving. AS™ mandates that the velocity of water should not exceed 20 FPS (feet per second). Make sure the supplier of the water features does not exceed these measurements.
Although splash pads typically don't feature standing water, the potential for drowning is still a concern. In fact, it doesn't take very much water to result in tragedy. Most kids who drown are under the age of 4, and can drown within minutes in less than two inches of water.
If the slope of the pad is not accurate and the drainage is not installed properly, kids can put plastic bags over the drains to create a pooling water area. Make sure the drains cannot be plugged.
Double-Check Moveable Parts
Recently I took my grandson to a local indoor waterpark and noticed a popular water trough for children. This type of feature is a good social area and also offers an educational experience with moving weirs that turn to allow water to flow. When the weir was placed to block the water, it pinched my grandson's fingers against the bottom of the trough. There were also holes in the weir that were potential finger entrapments.
Certainly no one intended for these components to be dangerous. However, AS™ currently does not have standards for the wet industry regarding pinch points or entrapments. Several types of features with moveable blocks and paddle wheels have entered the wet industry lately, some of which exhibit pinch points and entrapments.
Currently, there are no standards for slides used in spray parks. If your spray park incorporates a small slide, make sure the supplier manufactures the slide according to AS™ Dry Playground Safety Standards, CPSS standards or IPEMA standards. Unfortunately, I have seen many slides that would not pass in the dry playground industry being used in the wet environment. Some of these slides do not have entrance rails, proper transition size or protection to get the child into a sitting position.
Additionally, it is recommended that a safety mat be placed at the exit of any slide. At this time, the wet industry does not have a requirement for such safety mats, but look for one to come soon.
Do Your Homework
A trip to the spray park should be a rewarding experience, one where kids and their families can socialize with others in a safe environment. When designing your spray park, ask questions of the designer, installer, code enforcement, your Certified Playground Safety Inspector, and most importantly, the supplier of the spray features and amenities. Your homework will result in a safe spray park.