Supplement Feature - September 2013
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Ground Zero

Choosing the Right Playground Safety Surface

By Rick Dandes

Maintenance and Life Cycles

Different surfacing types have different life cycles. Whatever surface you select, good maintenance and proper care for the material can significantly extend its life.

"Choosing a company that offers a maintenance program can also help greatly increase the lifespan," Boland explained, "by performing key treatments at relevant times in the surface's life. Roll coating, adding a urethane coat, helps rejuvenate and strengthen the surface. The ability to patch is important to help repair potential damage from vandals, including holes or cuts that may become trip hazards."

In these cases, she added, replacement of the entire surface is not usually necessary, as opposed to being able to address the damaged area exclusively. "Amazingly, you can actually entirely re-top an existing poured-in-place surface as long as the system is in serviceable condition. There's a lot that surfacing experts can do to help playground owners save cost in the long term."

Loose-fill materials such as engineered wood fiber and rubber mulch are initially more cost-effective, but do require regular maintenance to keep the proper thickness protection under swings, at the ends of slides and in other high-traffic areas. Loose-fill surfacing can hide unwelcome objects on a playground, such as broken glass, sharp metal pieces or other items that can be injurious to a child and even compromise the safety level of the playground surfacing. Loose-fill surfacing requires borders such as plastic or wood timbers or concrete curbs to contain the materials and some unusual shapes of playgrounds may not be possible.

EWF, bonded rubber and synthetic grass can make a statement in nature playgrounds, further extending nature into the play area. All compliant surfacing types make a difference in terms of user safety. Depending upon the application, each type can further enhance the play environment beyond what the playground equipment can offer. For example, loose-fill materials offer loose parts for dramatic play within the play environment. Children can (and do!) use the loose surfacing material as money when they play "store."

"For our EWF playgrounds," Anderson said, "ongoing work includes maintaining a proper depth, grade and removing weed growth. Besides regular maintenance, our staff also works with local residents to organize volunteer events, spreading new EWF on the playgrounds. Repairs and replacements of unitary safety surfacing is typically limited to the cap layer and replaced by contractors."