Supplement Feature - September 2012
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Protect & Serve

Playground Safety Starts With the Surface

By Wynn St. Clair

Equally as important, the synthetic grass was ADA-compliant and would not need any additional considerations to make the surface functional for children of all abilities. It was a key factor given the park's original mission of offering a universally accessible play space.

"We felt it best addressed the qualities that we were looking for," Grimes said. "Anytime you have a new product like this, you have to do your research, and we did. We were confident we made the right choice."

The city installed the synthetic grass over the existing rubberized safety surface earlier this year, and the project has been met with rave reviews from the community. The two-week installation was so seamless that, at least at first glance, the new turf looks simply like a darker-colored section of lawn in the grass-covered park.

Park patrons have commented on how soft the surface feels and have made jokes about wanting to install it in their own yards. Participants in Camp Mac, a program for special needs children, had no problems navigating the surface. One camper who uses a wheelchair was able to get out of her chair and crawl on the grass because it was so comfortable.

"The feedback has been very positive so far," Grimes said. "Our residents are encouraged that we continue to provide the resources to make the surface and the playground as safe and updated as possible. It also looks great and blends in well with the grass around it. We're very happy with it."

Regardless of which surface is chosen, recreation managers should keep in mind that, when exposed to the sun, some dark-colored materials have caused blisters on bare feet. Whenever possible, ask the manufacturers for light-colored materials or provide shading to avoid direct exposure to the sun, experts said.

Manufacturers also should provide testing results to indicate the proper depth for such synthetic surfacing. Though they require less maintenance than their loose-fill counterparts, synthetic materials should regularly be checked for gouges, burns and loose areas. They also should be swept daily to prevent sand, dirt and rocks from becoming a slipping hazard.

Though there has been some concern about the impact of synthetic playground surfaces, research repeatedly has shown that such areas pose no significant environmental threat to air or water quality and pose no significant health concerns. One of the most recent studies—a 2009 report from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Health—concluded that crumb rubber materials used in synthetic turf presented no threat to user safety.