This week we again welcome guest blogger Kris Corrigan, Iowa State University Environmental Rating Scale Assessor, to discuss playground safety.
We are all on the same page when it comes to playground safety. We want children to have fun, take appropriate risks so they can develop new skills, and gain confidence in themselves. At the same time, we do not want them to get hurt while doing so.
As an Environment Rating Scale Assessor, I often find that playgrounds do not have enough cushioning to help prevent injuries in the event of a fall. In fact, the Consumer Product and Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that 70 percent of the injuries that occur on playgrounds involve falls and the majority of those falls are on improper surfacing. They recommend protective surfacing under and around any piece of equipment over 18 inches in height.
There are two types of surfacing recommended in The Consumer Product and Safety Commission’s Playground for Safety Handbook:
- Loose-fill surfacing includes organic materials such as wood chips, wood mulch, and engineered wood fibers, shredded, recycled rubber; or, inorganic materials such as sand and pea gravel.
- Unitary surfacing materials such as rubber tiles or mats or poured in place surfaces.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Factors such as the cost, maintenance, age of the children and climate should be considered if you are in the process of selecting materials. For example, pea gravel would not be a good choice for a playground with children under the age of three because it can be a choking hazard. Likewise, sand and pea gravel have limited fall height protection and would not be a good choice if your equipment is more than 4-5 feet tall. Whatever protective surface you choose or is chosen for you, the most important factor is to make sure you have enough surfacing to protect children in the event of a fall. You can find a chart outlining the depth requirements for loose-fill surface and the fall height protection it provides in the Playground for Safety Handbook.
Here’s a quick way to check the depth of your surfacing:
You just need a hand shovel and ruler. Dig down as far as you can with the hand shovel until you either hit hard-packed dirt or get to an appropriate depth. Measure the surfacing material with a ruler. If the depth is not correct, here are some options:
- If the surfacing is insufficient only under certain equipment, it can be raked to fill in the gaps.
- If the material is down in several areas, the site needs to buy more surfacing material to ensure the correct depth.
The depth of loose-fill material be it sand, pea gravel, or wood chips must be a minimum of 9 inches. Rubber mats, tiles, or poured in place surfaces should have documentation of the critical height rating of the surface provided by American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM).
For more information:
Hudson, S., Thompson, D., & Olsen, H. (2007) S.A.F.E. Play Areas – Creation, Maintenance, and Renovation, Cedar Falls, IA: National Program for Playground Safety
Playground Information to Use with the Environment Rating Scales (revised 10-3-13)