The Right Way To Install Safe Playground Surfaces

October 28, 2008

As a nation we go to great length to protect our children. We buckle them into safety seats in our cars, put helmets on their heads as they ride bikes and outfit them with pads as they skateboard down the street.

There’s no question we care. But, are we doing all we can to protect children as they run, climb and swing on our playgrounds. According to the most recent stats on fall surfacing, from the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS)  – the answer is no.

Even with an increased awareness of the safety associated with a poured-in-place playground surface, there is an increase in number of playgrounds with an unsafe level of loose infill playground surfaces. In a four-year period, the number of playgrounds with an appropriate depth of loose infill dropped from 47% to just 19%.

It’s no surprise that the NPPS has graded this effort as an F.

Some will argue that loose infill, when properly put down, is safe. In theory, they’re right, as long as it’s not used. The problem occurs when children do what children do – play.  As soon as children slide, swing or jump, the critical fall heights and the protection are dramatically compromised.

And, what about accessibility? The U.S. Departments of Justice and Interior Office of Civil Rights found that wood chips and pea gravel do not meet the requirements of an accessible surface as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

So you’re probably asking – why. Why would a loose infill material be used on a playground?

It may be cost – but even that doesn’t add up. While a poured surface may carry a bigger price tag up front – it is actually more cost effective over the life of the surface when you factor in on-going maintenance and material replacement associated with loose infill. Over the course of seven years, a loose infill system carries an average maintenance cost of $66,000. Its poured-in-place counterpart is zero.

So when you look at the facts – safety, accessibility and cost – the answer of how to best protect our children on playgrounds becomes quite clear.