Feature Article - January 2017
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Encourage Risk, But Safely

Playground Safety From Concept to Completion and Beyond

By Dave Ramont


What's Under Foot?

Surfacing is a crucial part of minimizing serious injuries, considering that approximately 70 percent of playground injuries are due to falls. Hard surfaces such as concrete and asphalt have no shock-absorbing properties and are unsuitable under any equipment. Grass, turf, packed dirt and soil are also not recommended since their ability to absorb shock can be reduced by weather conditions and wear. Some playgrounds utilize a loose-fill surface, such as engineered wood fiber (EWF), shredded rubber, wood chips or shredded bark mulch, or even certain types of fine sand or fine gravel. Also popular—though more expensive—are unitary surfaces such as rubber tiles or poured-in-place safety surfaces.

Loose-fill materials, such as EWF, do provide superior impact-resistant qualities, but also require more maintenance and upkeep, especially with regard to providing accessibility. Some playgrounds solve this problem by using loose-fill materials for the use zones and a unitary surface on routes where more accessibility is required. Jeff Mrakovich, Certification and Services Manager for a Middletown, Pa.-based manufacturer of engineered wood fiber surfacing and other playground safety solutions, offered some ways to keep a playground more accessible, including providing a smooth transition from the exterior surface into the playground surface; checking slope measurements on the entry route and other access routes around the play equipment that connect all entry and exit points; and making sure entry and exit points have a firm and stable 48-by-30-inch clear floor space to provide access for a person with a disability.