Supplement Feature - October 2015
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Play It Safe

Regular Maintenance, Testing Vital to Improving Safety

By Deborah L. Vence

Cost and Selection

Determining the best type of surface material should involve the total package—safe, accessible, affordable and available.

Looking at the safe factor, Mrakovich recommended asking the manufacturer for recent impact test results and if they have any test results from an actual installation out in the field.

"Are the numbers on the edge of failing, or is there plenty of room in case of harsh weather, which could affect the resiliency of the surface?" he said.

"If using EWF ask for test results that check for sieve analysis, tramp metals like nails and staples and hazardous metals like lead, mercury and arsenic," he suggested.

For ease of access, obtain a recent test result showing it passes for accessibility, but also see if the vendor has any installation instructions or maintenance recommendations to keep their surface accessible.

"When it comes to affordability, look at all angles. Can I afford it upfront without blowing up my budget as well as can I afford to maintain it so I have a safe, accessible surfacing?" he added.

For availability, Mrakovich suggested keeping in mind a couple of things: Will you have the support available when you need it, and will the vendor be there when you need to know how to get the most out of your purchase or when there is a warranty issue?

"Most playground owners don't have the time to chase down a vendor and then get the runaround when it comes to questions and answers to the product they purchased," he said. "They want their vendor or manufacturer available when something pops up."

Pittam said the three key elements of any surface are: IPEMA-certified fall height provided by the system, required maintenance to maximize performance, and price. "It's almost like buying running shoes," Pittam said. "You don't buy running shoes for their looks. You buy them for how they will help you run.

"Aesthetics often play a role in the purchase decision process, but ultimately, the surface is there to prevent critical brain injuries. If it looks good while doing that, great. But it is the last stop in preventing injuries should a child fall," he added. "Playground owners need to consider the best system they can afford that offers sufficient head impact protection for the equipment with a maintenance requirement that they can provide."