The Importance of Playground Safety Surfacing

A playground should be a fun and safe place for kids to play outdoors. Play equipment enables kids to climb, jump, swing, and balance to help them develop and test their physical capabilities and limitations. Sometimes, when those physical limitations are tested, a child ends up being sprawled out on the playground surfacing.   

Of course, children often fall while playing. In fact, the National Safety Council (NSC) estimated that nearly 80% of the injuries that occur on playgrounds are caused by falls. During their pre-school years, kids are still learning how to physically interact with their surrounding environment, and they’re still not fully aware of their physical limitations. This lack of understanding and the innate desire for some kids to take big risks will inevitably cause some hard crashes down onto a playground surface. That’s why it’s important to choose safe playground surface material that will absorb some of the impact of those crashes. We recommend always choosing a surface that meets or exceeds American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) guidelines and Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) requirements.

Below is a list of acceptable materials for playground surfaces and a few pros and cons of each playground surface.

Engineered Wood Fiber Mulch

The first material on our list of playground surfaces is Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) Playground Mulch. EWF is the most common type of playground surfacing because it’s relatively inexpensive and blends in beautifully with a natural environment. Moreover, it also meets Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and CPSC requirements. EWF is also relatively easy to find.

Although EWF has many desired playground surfacing characteristics, there are a couple potential pitfalls. First, toddlers and other little children may try to eat the EWF, as they sometimes do with toys and other items. However, proper supervision can avoid that scenario. Second, EWF can end up outside of the designated play area if proper borders are not maintained.

EWF is typically sold by the cubic yard. The CPSC recommends that playgrounds have 9 inches of compacted EWF to properly attenuate impacts from falls. Usually, we recommend installing 12 inches of EWF which then gets packed down to 9 inches. EcoPlay Structures partners with EWF mulch providers all over the Southeast to make sure that all of our equipment is properly surrounded by the appropriate type and amount of EWF.

Rubber Poured-in-Place Surfacing

The second material on our list of acceptable materials for playground surfaces is Poured-in-Place (PIP) rubber. There is a simple reason why rubber ranks so high on our list, it’s one of the safest options and also one of the most visually appealing. Additionally, it requires minimal maintenance on your part.

There are two forms in which you can find solid rubber surfaces for your playground. One is the PIP rubber that functions just like it sounds: a sub-base is created and then the rubber is poured out over the base. By the time that it’s firm, you’ve got a smooth, cushioned surface for your kids to play on. Not to mention, this safe playground surface comes in various colors that can fit into any exterior aesthetic. No wonder it’s one of the most popular playground surface options that are available!

Rubber surfaces also come in the form of rubber tiles. Rubber tiles are much easier to install than PIP, but they can require much more maintenance. The rubber tiles can be arranged and put together to fit into one solid surface. Even though the space between the tiles is almost non-existent, it is possible that some small things may still get through the cracks 

Both rubber surface options are popular due to their ADA accessibility and slip-resistance that allows for easy access to strollers and wheelchairs. There’s only one real downside to having solid rubber for your playground: it’s definitely the most expensive choice when it comes to safe playground surfaces.

Turf

Like PIP, turf is another one of the most visually appealing safety surfaces. It looks similar to natural grass, but you don’t have to mow it or water it! It is a great choice of surfacing for communities that want that “natural” look without all of the maintenance. Turf also drains very well and it can be installed over compacted stone, concrete, or asphalt.

Additionally, turf has a really long lifespan and requires very little maintenance after it is installed. As long as it’s installed correctly, it will not fade, shrink, or lose its impact attenuation in tough weather conditions. Moreover, it meets ADA guidelines for wheelchair accessibility and is much easier to navigate than loose-fill surfacing like mulch or rubber mulch nuggets. The only major drawback is affordability – it’s typically not quite as expensive as poured-in-place, but it is much more expensive than mulch.

Rubber Mulch Nuggets

If you’re looking for the flexibility provided by a rubber surface, but don’t want to pay the high price tag that comes with it, consider using rubber mulch nuggets. Rubber mulch nuggets are rubber, cushioned surfaces made out of recycled tires. Rubber mulch nuggets come in a variety of colors and can make for a very visually appealing playground surface. 

Generally, rubber mulch has a fraction of the cost you’d incur for solid rubber surfaces. However, not all rubber mulch providers coat it with non-toxic materials, and some black tire mulches can contain toxic materials themselves, so do some diligence before purchasing rubber mulch nuggets.

Give Us a Call

Selecting the best material for playground surfaces that children will spend a lot of time on is not an easy task. You need something safe, durable, and soft enough to cushion against all sorts of injuries. If you’re having a hard time picking the right materials, don’t worry,  we’re more than happy to take you through all of the options in detail and provide a professional opinion. Just  contact us today, and we’ll help you make the best choices for your playground!

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