Supplement Feature - September 2010
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Creative Cushioning

Adding More Safety to Play

By Jessica Royer Ocken

You've seen them in action. Turn those little bodies loose in a play space and they head mostly one direction: up. This explains why research compiled by the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) implicates falls to the surface in nearly 70 percent of reported playground injuries and why the majority of injuries (53 percent) on public playgrounds are related to climbing equipment. Since what climbs up inevitably—and sometimes accidentally—comes down, it makes sense to cushion the fall and keep the playground a happy place.

"The standard of care in the industry is that the surface under and around equipment has to accommodate the critical height of that equipment," explained playground safety expert Thom Thompson. "That's what fall protection is all about."

And fall protection is what much of safety surfacing is about—but not entirely. Despite little monkeys' tendencies to climb, there's plenty of horizontal motion during play as well—they swing, they slide, they run, they roll, they build. So, factors like ease of walking and comfort when sitting also come into play where surfacing is concerned.

Depending on the rules in your state or city, as well as the type of playground you're operating (schools and childcare centers, in particular, are carefully scrutinized), not to mention your insurance company and the parents of those who come to play, you may be required, not just recommended, to meet certain safety standards. So, use the following as a primer on surfaces, and get inspired as you plan to make safe landings an integral part of your playground experience.

Know Your Surface Options

In spots where fall protection requirements are minimal, surface choices like padded artificial turf or a mix of loose-fill material and binder come into play; and where kids remain firmly on the ground, good old fashioned grass is still a crowd-pleaser.

However, options for safety surfacing that provide fall protection can be grouped into three general categories: loose fill, rubber tiles or mats, and poured in place. Read on to sort it all out.