Playground Compliance

Swings, sandboxes and slides — once upon a time, these were the usual suspects in playgrounds everywhere. In fact, without them, it wasn’t really considered a playground.

Kids -- still the most important component of any playground!

But times have changed. Today’s playgrounds are expected to be accessible and safe, and to engage a child’s imagination and senses, according to Kirsten Rimes of O’Boyle, Cowell, Blalock and Associates Inc., in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Rimes, a Certified Playground Safety Inspector as well as a licensed landscape architect (and a parent of playground users as well), says that standards govern the construction and equipment of modern play areas.

“The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Handbook for Public Playground Safety and the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) F1487-07a are the two primary playground safety documents in the United States,” notes Rimes.

“The CPSC handbook was first established in 1981 and addresses the safety of the entire playground. ASTM F1487 was established in 1991 with a primary focus on the safety of the equipment. ASTM is updated every 3 to 4 years, while CPSC only recently issued its third update. Several states have passed laws that any new playground must comply with one of the two standards; however, some states do not have any laws regarding playground safety. The standards were established to protect kids from life-threatening injuries and seriously debilitating injury.”

On The Surface

It used to be that playgrounds were simply located in grassy areas, which quickly became bare from the constant foot traffic. Today’s playgrounds are expected to have some form of safety surfacing under and around the play structures. According to Rimes, 79 percent of injuries on playgrounds are caused by falls; 68 percent are falls to the surface.

“Proper safety surfacing is arguably the most important safety feature on playgrounds today,” she notes. “However, the two things that contribute to the injury statistic are lack of supervision and lack of maintenance.”

There are two types of surfacing:

1. Unitary

2. Loose fill

Unitary surfacing includes mats, tiles or poured-in-place rubber surfacing, and is typically accessible to children in wheelchairs or those with other mobility challenges. Loose-fill surfacing includes wood chips, bark mulch, sand, pea stone, shredded rubber or engineered wood fiber (the last two are the only accessible loose-fill materials). New hybrids are also available that encapsulate loose fill so it has a uniform surface.

Maneuvering on unitary surfaces is much easier than on loose fill; however, the cost is significantly higher for unitary surfacing.

According to Edward Norton of Holcombe Norton Partners in Birmingham, Ala., it is essential to use safety surfacing, not just under playground structures but around them.

“The biggest mistake we see is the playground that will have a good surface beneath the equipment, but it does not extend far enough out around the perimeter,” Norton notes. “Manufacturers publish the distances the safe zone should extend.”

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