Supplement Feature - September 2010
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Creative Cushioning

Adding More Safety to Play

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Wood chips compacted by hundreds of running feet, scooped into a pile by industrious builders, or washed away by the rain won't do their job when someone falls off the jungle gym. And even under pristine circumstances, "wood materials and most sands will settle by a third in the first three months, whether kids are on them or not," said playground safety expert Thompson.

"The more kids are on them, the more they settle, and the tighter they get. Then they can't protect from [falls from] the prescribed height anymore," he said. Thompson said he usually advises his clients to over-fill their loose-fill areas to compensate for settling. If nine inches of material are required, put in 12, just to be safe.

Thompson often consults on playground-related litigation and said most cases "involve falls onto inadequate surfaces because of lack of maintenance."

Appropriate loose-fill maintenance includes frequent, possibly even daily, checks to ensure the material remains evenly distributed, as well as periodic, perhaps quarterly, tilling or "fluffing" to make sure the material is aerated and loose, not packed down hard.

Loose-fill materials also are inappropriate for use over very hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt, and they require some sort of border to contain the material and help keep it at the appropriate depth.


Safety is worth taking seriously, so seek the resources available to you as you consider the right surface for your playground or recreational area.

The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) is part of the College of Education at the University of Northern Iowa. Visit their Web site,, for a variety of statistics and facts on playground injuries and how to prevent them, as well as to submit questions about playground safety and find further resources to help you as you plan and make decisions.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission's Handbook for Playground Safety is an invaluable reference that provides clear guidelines for selecting and installing appropriate safety surfacing. Follow these rules and suggestions correctly and you're well on the way to creating safe playing environments.

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