The weather is nice. It’s time to hit the playground, softly!Hard surfaces such as concrete, asphalt, and earth under and around playground equipment can cause injuries to children, so it is important to cover these surfaces with materials that are soft enough to cushion a fall. There are many acceptable systems for creating a safer play surface. We’ll cover two in this article.
First, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Handbook for Public Playground Safety recommends the following practice. Immediately over the hard surface there should be a 3-6 inch base layer of loose-fill (e.g., gravel) for drainage. The next layer should be a geotextile cloth. The next and final layer should be 9 inches of loose-fill material like wood chips, wood mulch, and rubber mulch (6 inches in the case of shredded/recycled rubber). Embedded in the loose-fill layer should be impact attenuating mats under high traffic areas, such as under swings, at slide exits, and other places where aggressive play activity can quickly shift loose materials and expose hazardous impact zones. It is also important to frequently check for compacting of the loose fill, adding additional materials as needed to maintain the standard depth.
Another solution is to install unitary materials under play equipment. These are synthetic or rubber tiles, mats, or a combination of energy-absorbing materials held together by a binder that may be poured in place. This material is installed as the final layer on top of similar base layers mentioned above (e.g., hard surface, then loose fill for drainage, and then geotextile cloth). If you are planning to purchase unitary materials, always confirm with the vendor or manufacturer that the surfacing conforms to ASTM F1292 - Standard Specification for Impact Attenuation of Surface Systems Under and Around Playground Equipment.
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