Feature Article - November 2018
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Play It Safe

The Key Elements of Playground Safety Surfaces

By Rick Dandes

When it comes to maintenance, a tile surface may need to be cleared of debris from time to time. One of the benefits of this type of unitary surface is that damage can be simple to repair by swapping out damaged tiles.

Poured-in-place (PIP) is a two-layer system that is mixed and installed onsite over a stable surface such as concrete, asphalt or highly compacted stone, Toomey explained. "The first layer is made from recycled rubber mesh, or in some cases crumb rubber, and the top layer is manmade colored granules, both mixed with moisture-curing polyurethane binder at different content percentages. The base layer varies in thickness corresponding to the different fall heights of the equipment. Since the surface is hand-troweled, there is margin for human error, and since most playgrounds are outside, the weather plays a big part as well."

Poured-in-place has been sort of the granddaddy of surfacing for a long time, Hawley said. "It is very architectural, and it is free-forming. There are different colors and designs that can go into the poured-in-place to complement the play value of the playground equipment. It could be themed. We see poured-in-place used almost exclusively when you have a capital project where an agency has budgeted X-amount of millions of dollars for a new park and it is being created by the architectural and design folks. They love poured-in-place because they can do so much with it."

"To get a good quality PIP surface that lasts," Tommey said, "using an experienced install crew is just as important as using quality materials. The crew must be able to handle different atmospheric conditions, as well as other job-site challenges. We are often the last contractor on the job, so our crews must be knowledgeable about AS™ standards and all aspects of playground construction. It's a technical and time-sensitive install process using expensive raw materials. So, it must be done right the first time."

Like any other surface, PIP needs to be maintained. And there are programs where the rubber surfacing is regularly recoated with urethane to help it from wearing out, Hawley said. "It also revitalizes the colors and helps it come back to the original reason they bought it in the first place. Yes, it needs to be maintained. It needs to be cleaned and use zones need to be patched if they wear out and then the overall durability can be improved if it is maintained with the top coatings."

Artificial turf is another up-and-coming option, Hawley noted. "The turf comes with recycled foam pad beneath for resiliency. Artificial turf is a natural-looking option and is considered environmentally friendly because it eliminates the need for watering, fertilizers and other harmful chemicals."

The downside to artificial turf is that it can get very hot. For example, on a 98-degree day, the temperature on the turf could rise to more than 180 degrees, Hawley said. Turf also requires some maintenance to keep it looking good; however, it does provide consistent fall protection.

"There are some maintenance requirements with turf," Hawley said, "because if you don't brush it and maintain the infill required the fibers can lay down. Look at normal grass and most of the time it is standing up, so you have to do some brushing and raking, as far as maintenance goes."

All the varieties of unitary surfaces are relatively low-maintenance, while providing ADA compliance and consistent fall protection. But they all require a greater initial expense and need to be professionally installed. Loose-fill varieties are less expensive but require more maintenance, and they do not provide consistent fall protection unless properly maintained.

The playground, as an environment to get everyone involved and keep them safe is at an all-time high, Hawley said. "It's a fun business to be part of when you get a chance to play a role in the planning of all that."