Playgound Fencing Specification Has Teeth

First published by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) nine years ago, a little-known and ill-respected national safety standard addressed playground fencing–the “Standard Safety Performance Specification for Fences/Barriers for Public, Commercial, and Multi-Family Residential Use Outdoor Play Areas,” or #F2049-09b.

Originally called a “Standard Guide,” it was changed this year to a “Standard Safety Performance Specification,” which forces the playground industry to comply with the mandate.

What difference does it make? A huge one. California, for example, has adopted all playground-related ASTM Standards and CPSC Guidelines into law. In short, the purpose of the new standard is to provide for the safety of the occupants in play areas or zones as it pertains to vehicular intrusion, as well as to other participant intrusion (strangers), to contain the children. It provides for better supervision, and keeps children from running into a street, body of water, a set of railroad tracks, etc., that are within 200 feet of the play equipment or its use zones. It also addresses the hazards of fence gate-latches that may cause facial lacerations or impact eye sockets if the latch is too low or is deemed a protrusion hazard.

I continue to hear of children running from a playground into the street while chasing a ball, only to be run over by a truck or car and killed. I read about drivers mistaking the brake for the gas and plowing into playgrounds. I recall a child-care center taking a class to a public playground and a child running from the playground to a lake and drowning. These incidents happen worldwide.

Here are the highlights of the standard:

· A non-climbable fence (standard chain-link is climbable) is at least 4 feet tall, and completely surrounds the playground if any listed hazard (the same as above) is within 200 feet of play equipment or its use zone.

· Protrusions that fail the gauge test (typically horseshoe gate latches, bolts in fence panels or gates) are either corrected, raised to at least 54 inches high, or are shielded.

· If barriers are required, they must be installed on the outside of a fence to stop a vehicle. Barriers only go on the vulnerable sides, not always on all sides of the playground.

· Chain link cannot be climbable. If mesh openings are more than 1.25 inches between parallel sides of mesh, or are more than 1.75 inches measured horizontally between corners of the mesh, it is climbable.

· Gate-release mechanisms must be over 48 inches high.

· Single gates must be self-closing, self-latching and open outward from a play area.

· Nothing can be within 6 feet of the fence so a child cannot climb it and defeat the fence.

Tips for bringing your playground into compliance:

1. If you currently have chain-link fencing, don’t panic. See-through slats can eliminate the likelihood of climbing and still offer supervision, since it allows a line of sight into the playground.

2. Cut or peen bolts that protrude on the playground side of the fence, or replace them with shorter bolts that pass the gauge test.

3. Replace hazardous gate latches with a Magna-Latch that is the proper height and doesn’t protrude.

4. Short, concrete bollards, spaced and tested per the Standard, will help stop a vehicle.

Before you find yourself in the hot seat, make some adjustments or corrections to your playground now before it’s too late.

For more details on construction and specifications, go to www.astm.org.

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