Feature Article - July/August 2006
Find a printable version here

Special Supplement: Complete Guide to Sports Surfaces and Flooring

Something's Afoot

By Kara Spak

Playground safety

More than 200,000 children end up in emergency rooms every year for injuries sustained from playground equipment, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The bulk of these are from falls from equipment to the ground.

The surface you build a playground on can be the critical factor in making your play area safe for all children. The greater the shock-absorbency of a surface, the less the chance of serious injuries.

According to the commission, asphalt or concrete are only appropriate under playground equipment when used as a base for a more absorbent material, like a cushioned mat. Soil, grass, turf or packed dirt are not recommended because of their hardness and lack of shock-absorption.

Unitary materials and loose-fill are the two surfaces recommended. Unitary materials are rubber mats, tiles or other rubber-like materials that are bound together or poured-in-place. The CPSC recommends that you investigate the shock-absorbing properties of these materials before purchasing from the wide range of manufacturers that offer it. Meanwhile, loose-fill materials include wood mulch or bark, sand, gravel, and recycled rubber nuggets. For loose-fill to be effective, it needs to be installed and maintained at a sufficient depth. Unlike unitary materials, loose-fill should not be placed over concrete.

Loose-fill can be more maintenance-intensive. One easy way the commission recommends to ensure you have the proper depth of loose-fill is to mark the playground equipment's posts at the proper level of loose-fill surfacing under and around the equipment.

Equipment that lets a child play while standing or sitting, like a play house or sand box, does not need to be on a protective surface, the commission states.