Evolution of Playground Surfaces

March 28, 2024


Being a father of four, my number one priority as a parent was always safety for my children. Especially when they are playing on the playground that has equipment higher than 5 feet. I have purchased many playground sets, swing sets, and trampolines, and every time my four boys would climb on any playground my anxiety grew.
I wasn’t worried about my sons’ climbing capabilities, I encouraged them to do that…. I was more worried about them falling and getting hurt.
Over the next few months, I’ll be speaking on playground safety and all the components that go into a safe system.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission states that more than 220,000 children are injured from playground injuries each year across the United States. That is about 500 children per day. That’s a lot.
There are standards to the industry when it comes to testing fall surfaces, playground equipment, and safety requirements.
IPEMA (international play equipment manufacturing association) has written guidelines and created safety requirements for the playground industry.
Loose materials have always been used as fall surfaces. For decades Pea Gravel, Wood Chips, Organic Mulch, Rubber Mulch, and even Sand have been used for protective fall surfaces. Most of these loose materials are placed 12 inches thick just to pass safety standards.
The only issue with loose materials is that they are loose, and with heavy foot traffic they become displaced and must be refilled and regraded to keep the minimum of 12 inches.

Have you ever fell and dropped on pea gravel as a kid? I have, and even though I didn’t get a brain injury, it left me with bruises and a pound of pea gravel in my shoes.
The depths of pea gravel need to be maintained throughout the day to ensure its safety. This can be costly to maintain. This Is why I started installing synthetic turf playgrounds.

Have you ever played on woodchips? Over the years wood chips, bark, and other wood materials have served as a replacement for pea gravel. Wood chips are wood fibers with edges that are tumbled smooth.
Wood chips can be soft on the landing but when it is wet it can compact and become very hard to land on. Wood chips can be abrasive, and complaints of splinters, wood particles in the eyes and stains on the children’s clothes have been many of the complaints.
What people fail to realize is that it is very porous, and absorbent and you cannot clean, and the smell alone is enough to call “unsafe”.
Wood chips can absorb blood, urine, and vomit and create bacteria that could be unhealthy for children.
Continuous foot traffic like pea gravel, wood chips can deplete the amount that is needed for safety.
This Is why I started installing synthetic turf playgrounds.

There is a deception when people say that rubber mulch meets the H.I.C testing which is the head injury criteria. Playgrounds across the globe have I.P.E.M.A. and H.I.C. certifications for their playgrounds at the time of installation.
What you don’t understand is when a child jumps off a playset and onto the rubber mulch, just like pea gravel, mulch, and wood chips, the location of the impact will cause the rubber mulch to separate and create a depression in the height of the rubber mulch surface.
When another child comes behind and falls in the same place, there is less rubber mulch to protect his or her fall which may cause injury or death if he or she lands on their head.
The maintenance for rubber mulch can be costly as well when adding additional rubber mulch every day just to maintain its H.I.C requirements.
This Is why I started installing synthetic turf playgrounds.

Poured in place rubber has become very popular over the last decade for playground surfaces. It can be done with many colors and appeasing to the eye if it is installed correctly.
One thing you must realize is that E.P.D.M. surfacing performs differently in extreme climates. When the temperatures drop below 40 degrees, the surface becomes very hard and unsafe.
Climates that have freeze-thaw disintegration can break down the urethane binder that gives the rubber surface its cohesion and flexibility.
Areas that have high summer temperatures can cause thermal expansion and contraction within the system and cause openings, cracks, and separation from the edges and the equipment.
The areas that are susceptible to high traffic begin to fall apart and leave holes up to 4 inches deep.
If the surface is not maintained and resealed regularly with aliphatic urethane, the surface becomes hard, and the crumb rubber begins to delaminate.
In my years of installing poured-in-place rubber playgrounds, I realized how bad the surface can get within one season.

This, my friends, is why I started installing synthetic turf playgrounds.
Past playground surfaces have done their best in keeping children safe… BUT… Is there a better solution? You bet there is! A quality Synthetic turf Playground Surface. Join me next time where I speak about Turf systems, Shock pad, Infill, and maintenance.
Until then…. JW OUT!

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