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The Importance of Choosing Playground Surfacing: Ensuring Safety and Durability

Posted by Churchich Content Team Content on March 4, 2024

A visit to the local playground always brings a smile to a child’s face. These important spaces are not just places for play and fun but outlets for children’s physical and cognitive development.

Playground designers have many choices to make when building a playground and selecting the right surfacing materials, including equipment surfaces, is crucial as it directly impacts safety, durability, and overall user experience.

“It is critical to understand the role that adequate and appropriate surfacing materials play in the prevention of injuries,” advises the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS). “The first step in creating a safe surface under and around playground equipment is to select appropriate surfacing materials.”

Ensuring Safety Through Playground Surfacing

Before examining the factors to consider when choosing playground surfacing, it's essential to understand the critical role it plays in keeping children safe during play.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries for children, with playgrounds being one of the most common locations for such incidents.

“Each year, more than 200,000 children go to U.S. hospital emergency rooms with injuries associated with playground equipment. Most injuries occur when a child falls from the equipment onto the ground,” says the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Injuries resulting from falls can range from minor cuts and bruises to more severe fractures and concussions. Proper playground surfacing is vital for mitigating the impact of falls and reducing the risk of serious injuries.

Safety considerations include:

  • The Importance of Impact Absorption: Playground surfacing acts as a cushioning layer that absorbs the impact of falls, helping to prevent injuries. Surfaces with higher shock-absorbing properties provide better protection against falls from playground equipment. According to the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS), surfaces should be tested and certified to ensure compliance with safety standards such as ASTM International F1292, which specifies the critical fall height and impact attenuation requirements for various playground surfaces.
  • Addressing Common Playground Hazards: Proper surfacing helps mitigate injury risks such as entrapment, protrusions, and tripping hazards by providing a smooth and even surface for children to play on. Loose-fill materials like shredded wood and rubber mulch should be adequately maintained to prevent displacement and ensure uniform coverage. Unitary surfaces such as rubber tiles or poured-in-place rubber offer seamless installations that minimize the risk of tripping and entrapment.
  • Designing for Safety and Accessibility: When selecting playground surfacing materials, it's essential to consider accessibility for children of all abilities. Surfaces should be firm, stable, and slip-resistant to accommodate wheelchair users and individuals with mobility impairments. Compliance with accessibility standards such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that playgrounds are inclusive and welcoming to all children, regardless of their physical abilities.

By prioritizing safety in playground surfacing decisions, playground designers and operators can create environments that foster active play while minimizing the risk of injuries.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Playground Surfaces

Making an informed decision when choosing playground surfaces is essential since this choice has a direct impact on safety, durability, and aesthetics.

Some factors to consider when choosing playground surfaces include:

  • Cost: Budget constraints may influence your choice of surfacing materials.
  • Intended Use: Consider the age group and types of activities the playground will accommodate.
  • Required Upkeep: Evaluate the maintenance requirements of different surfacing options.
  • Accessibility: Ensure that the surfacing meets accessibility standards for all users.
  • Visual Appeal: Choose materials that complement the playground's aesthetics while maintaining safety standards.

By carefully considering these factors, you can make informed decisions that prioritize safety and functionality in your playground design.

Evolution of Playground Equipment Surfaces

Playground equipment surfaces have evolved significantly over the years, adapting to changing safety standards and design preferences.

Today, the most common playground equipment surfaces include plastic, metal, and wood play systems.

Let's look at the pros and cons of all three surfaces:

  • Plastic: Versatile and available in various colors, plastic structures offer safety and durability suitable for indoor and outdoor play.
    • Pros: Safe for falls, customizable, suitable for younger children.
    • Cons: Less durable than metal, may require more frequent maintenance.
  • Metal: Highly durable and resilient, metal structures are ideal for high-traffic areas and withstand extensive use.
    • Pros: Long lifespan, suitable for swings and climbers.
    • Cons: Prone to rust if not properly maintained, may require additional coatings for heat protection.
  • Wood: Organic in appearance and customizable, wooden playsets offer a natural aesthetic and can be adapted to various configurations.
    • Pros: Aesthetic appeal, adaptable, suitable for older children.
    • Cons: Requires regular maintenance to prevent splintering and weather damage.

Remember, when choosing your playground equipment surfacer, you are not limited to only one particular material as many wonderful playgrounds have a combination of plastic playground systems, wooden structures, and metal swings.

Playground Surfacing Materials

Playground surfacing materials play a vital role in minimizing injuries from falls, and the options have come a long way from the concrete playground pads of the past.

“Inappropriate surfacing materials include asphalt, cement, dirt, and concrete. Appropriate material examples include loose-fill material (wood products, sand, pea gravel, and crumb rubber) and unitary surface material (rubber tile, poured-in-place, and other artificial surfaces),” says the NPPS.

Common playground surface options include:

  • Solid/Unitary Rubber Surfacing: Provides a seamless, impact-absorbing surface ideal for high-traffic areas.
    • Pros: Excellent shock absorption, low maintenance, ADA compliant.
    • Cons: Higher initial cost and may require professional installation.
  • Artificial Turf: Mimics the look and feel of natural grass while offering enhanced durability and resilience.
    • Pros: All-weather use, easy to clean, long lifespan.
    • Cons: Requires periodic grooming and maintenance.
  • Shredded Wood: Natural and affordable, shredded wood provides a soft, cushioned surface that is biodegradable.
    • Pros: Eco-friendly, cost-effective, natural appearance.
    • Cons: Requires regular replenishment, may attract pests.
  • Rubber Crumb: Made from recycled rubber, rubber crumb surfacing offers excellent shock absorption and durability.
    • Pros: Sustainable, resilient, available in various colors.
    • Cons: May retain heat in warmer climates and requires occasional topping up.
  • Engineered Wood Fiber: Composed of processed wood fibers, engineered wood fiber provides a natural-looking surface with good impact attenuation.
    • Pros: Affordable, natural appearance, and meets safety standards.
    • Cons: Requires regular maintenance to maintain proper depth and compaction.
  • Sand: Traditional and cost-effective, sand provides a soft landing surface with natural drainage properties.
    • Pros: Inexpensive, natural appearance, suitable for creative play.
    • Cons: Prone to displacement and contamination, may require frequent raking and leveling.

Each of these surfacing materials offers unique advantages and considerations. By carefully evaluating the specific needs and requirements of your playground, you can select the most suitable surfacing material to ensure safety and durability for years to come.

Consult the playground pros at Churchich Recreation today for help in choosing the right surface materials for your equipment and playground in North Carolina and South Carolina.