Problem Solver - August 2012
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Select a Surface for Long-Term Safety

Thousands of children are treated in U.S. emergency rooms every year for injuries that occur on the playground. Most of these injuries occur when children fall to the surface, which makes it crucial to carefully select a playground safety surface that will meet your needs. Equally important, though, is knowing that the surface you've installed is effective from the day it's installed through the end of its lifecycle.

Q: How do we know that the playground safety surface at our playground will perform at the level claimed by its manufacturer?

A: Quite simply, you don't. This is why you should ask about post-installation field testing, which has been making rapid gains in popularity.

Generally, owners ask the surface manufacturer for the third-party test reports that show the safety performance numbers achieved by that surface. After this, there is typically no verification that the actual installed surface has achieved these same measurements. In fact, many surfaces do not meet standards within just a few short years—sometimes even immediately—after installation.

One of the best ways to ensure that your surface is performing as expected is to require that post-installation testing be an integral part of your contract for your playground safety surface.

Q: How do manufacturers and third-party testing companies measure the safety of a surface?

A: Surfaces must test under 1000 HIC and 200 Gmax, and many assume that any surface performing below these numbers is in compliance. This is technically correct, but because these are maximum allowable thresholds, as soon as the surface exceeds either of these numbers, it is out of compliance with the standards, and repair or replacement must take place immediately.

In reality, test performance varies a great deal—as much as 10 percent depending on individual test instruments. Because of this, a surface that tests in the 900s could actually be out of compliance. On top of that, the performance rating deteriorates over time as the surface ages and is exposed to the sun's UV rays.

Because of this, it is wise to look for surfaces that achieve scores well below the maximum threshold. You also should ask manufacturers about the context in which the tests are performed. A safety surface's ability to prevent serious injuries can change a great deal depending on the weather conditions.

Q: We are concerned about the long-term costs of our playground safety surface? What should we know about the cost of maintaining our surface and ensuring safety over its lifecycle?

A: Different types of playground safety surfaces can make maintenance much easier—or a lot more difficult. Loose fill surfacing, for example, could require daily maintenance to ensure it is providing the expected protection. As children play, they kick out the material, especially in fall zones under swings and near slides. Because of this, you need to constantly rake the material back into place. Poured-in-place surfaces do not need as much daily maintenance, but if vandalism, wear or other damage occurs, it can be difficult to fix.

Safety tiles are an option that reduces these types of headaches. They do not require the same kind of daily maintenance as loose fill, but if one area gets worn or damaged, it is easy to replace just a few tiles.

Another thing to look for is a dense top cap that does not allow sand, dirt and other materials to penetrate into the system, which helps preserve the safety performance.


SofSurfaces Inc.: 800-263-2363