Feature Article - March 2011
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Play It Safe

Improving Safety for Your Play Spaces

By Kelli Anderson

Environmentally Safe and Sound

But even when safety guidelines have been applied, safety inspectors are consulted and equipment or designs are geared to address every possible play need, planners need to make sure that they also consider the age-appropriateness and the geographical environment before play elements are chosen.

"Make sure the equipment is designed to meet the ages you are intending," Watermiller advised," and that the equipment and surfacing is installed and maintained according to manufacturer's specifications."

For the inclusive playground re-design in Warren, Ohio, choosing an accessible play surface had to take into the consideration the fact that the existing playground site was in a flood plane. "When we put in rubber tile, we were going to put it in over gravel but the more we talked about drilling holes after the fact and cementing posts in the ground, we'd have over 100 holes," said Chuck Joseph, then-president of the Mainstreet Warren Project responsible for the playground transformation. "So, we decided to pour a cement pad and we'd bolt the ground-level poles to height with metal plates and had the interlocked reground rubber mats cut to match up with the posts. Because of the flood plane, we glued down more than normal, but we were strategic." And the results were an accessible, safer play space.

There is seldom—if ever—a one-size-fits-all product that will guarantee that safety results in the lab will be duplicated in the real world without some special considerations. Many factors affect the performance of an installed surface, for example, including geographic region, temperature extremes and the skill level of the installer.

Making sure a safety element will perform as it should must never be taken for granted and always considered in light of these and other variables. To that end, some manufacturers, in response to buyers' concerns, are now providing on-site testing of their materials after installation to ensure that their performance is in compliance before payment is complete.

When playground equipment was chosen for the new playground built at the Martin Lake Resort in Biloxi, Miss., manufacturers were quick to note that the environmental hazards of high winds from hurricanes and high heat and dangerous sun exposure meant that certain adaptations needed to be made in the otherwise standard safety-compliant play equipment.

"We were pretty much confident that everything in the catalog was safe—our concerns were about hurricane strength and everything engineered for footings. Another concern was the heat," said Jay Snow, owner and manager of the resort. "We needed something enclosed and safe. For us it was important that the manufacturer be able to customize. You don't compromise on the safety, and you don't compromise on your design. And you don't have to, if you have the right company."