inPERSPECTIVE / SURFACES: Eye on Safety
New Standard Established for Aquatic Safety Surfaces
Splash pads and playgrounds are incredibly similar, attracting families for play and activity. Ensuring the safety of children at play, whether in a wet or dry play environment, is the responsibility of everyone who designs, manufactures, builds and operates these facilities.
Until the early 1980s, playground injuries were common, as there were no industry standards for equipment and surfacing. In 1981, the Consumer Product Safety Commission published its first Handbook for Public Playground Safety. Soon after, AS™ established its own guidelines. Since then, playgrounds have thrived with dramatically fewer injuries and better play experiences for all abilities.
Splash pads are a relatively recent introduction to the play scene, and have grown exponentially over the past few decades. Similar to playgrounds, surfacing standards for splash pads have not immediately been adopted and history has repeated itself. According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database, in 2014 alone there were an estimated 20,000 injuries on pool decks, splash pads or waterparks resulting in an emergency room visit.
Taking into account the growth of splash pads, NSF/ANSI 50, after years of research, testing and deliberation, has created a new standard for splash pad surfaces. The standard was created because experts have witnessed how similar splash pads and playgrounds are and how safety surfacing prevents injuries and improves play experiences.
To be certified to NSF/ANSI 50 (Interactive Water Play Venue Surfacing Systems) a surface must meet six performance-based requirements:
>> Slip Resistance: Certified splash pad surfaces must be slip resistant in order to minimize slip-and-fall injuries, while providing traction without being abrasive.
>> Impact Absorption: Certified splash pad surfaces must be cushioned in order to absorb the falls that inevitably occur. Just as playground safety surfaces must adhere to specific criteria, a certified splash pad surface must achieve a HIC (Head Injury Criterion) value of 750, with a 0.20 meter minimum fall height.
>> Chemical Resistance: Crucial in the aquatic environment, where chlorine and other chemicals are used to maintain safe water, certified splash pad surfaces must maintain their traction and impact attenuation even after exposure to harsh chemicals.
>> UV Resistance: Similarly, as splash pad surfaces are exposed to sun, they must be resistant to ultraviolet radiation. A surface must maintain its traction and impact attenuation after exposure to 750 hours of intense UV light. Safety messaging must also maintain visual clarity.
>> Cleanability: Certified splash pad surfaces must respond well to cleaning and sanitization.
>> Impermeability: Certified splash pad surfaces must not absorb water. In fact, according to the standard, a certified surface must be at least as impermeable as concrete, which is rated as 98.3% impervious.
A series of rigorous, independent third-party tests must be conducted for a product to pass certification. Only once a surface has passed testing to meet all six performance standards—slip resistance, impact absorption, chemical resistance, UV resistance, cleanability and impermeability—can the surface earn NSF/ANSI 50 certification.
Adhering to the NSF standards in terms of operational excellence and risk mitigation is always in a facility's best interest. Meeting NSF standards for sanitation, health and safety can also provide protection from potential lawsuits.
If you are already operating the majority of your facility using NSF-certified products, you'll want to continue to update as new standards are introduced.
Choosing products and equipment that are NSF 50-certified ensures that you are using the safest, best-performing products and services available for aquatic operators. Look for products with NSF certification to be sure you are doing everything you can to reduce risk and protect patrons. RM