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Playground Surfaces- How To Choose For The Best Value While Reducing Kid Safety Issues

When shopping for a playground safety surface, the initial purchase price is an important consideration, but even more important is the actual cost of the surface project over a period of years. More often than not, lower initial price surfaces end up being the higher-priced option in the long term due to extensive maintenance and replenishment costs.

It is estimated that over 70 percent of playground injuries are due to falls to the surface. Unfortunately, the very nature of children’s play makes falls to the surface inevitable. In light of this, protective surfacing options remain one of the most overlooked and under-evaluated aspects of playground design.

The types of surfacing available can be generally broken down into two main categories: loose fill, and monolithic or unitary materials.

The initial advantages for loose fill are limited by the generally high life-cycle costs associated with regular maintenance and the replenishment requirements needed to ensure that the surface remains in compliance with current safety standards.

Monolithic or unitary surfacing consists of two major types of products including poured in place (PIP) and prefabricated mats or tiles. These materials are generally made from a combination of recycled and virgin rubber combined with a polyurethane resin.

Unitary surfacing offers quite a few functional advantages including low maintenance and low life cycle costs. Extensive maintenance is not required in order to maintain consistent fall protection and it provides excellent wheelchair mobility

1) Meeting standards for impact attenuation

ASTM F1292-04 is the standard that applies to the impact-absorbing properties of a playground surface. Both categories of surfacing listed above should comply with the current standards provided they are installed to the manufacturer’s specifications. Surfaces such a packed dirt, gravel and asphalt, however, do not meet the standard.

2) Testing to achieve specified fall requirement

When purchasing a safety surface, it is important to consider a system that provides ASTM F1292-04 test results that are a minimum of 20 percent better than the upper limit. A surface producing results close to the upper limit is unlikely to remain in compliance over the long term. Every manufacturer should be able to provide you with documentation of their certified test reports.

3) Compliance with ADA standards

Handicapped accessibility to any playground for the most part is by way of a monolithic or unitary surface and should automatically meet this requirement. Although some loose fill materials also meet this requirement, there are some density questions, as many others do not meet the requirements. Accessibility can be demonstrated by the manufacturer by supplying their test documents indicating compliance to ASTM F 1951.

4) Maintaining the fall height standards

It is important to carefully look at the warranty offered by the manufacturer. G-MAX and HIC Test reports provided by the manufacturer are laboratory reports and do not necessarily take into consideration certain factors that may be unique to your site. Proper maintenance of your rubber surfacing is the key to validate your warranty and maintain their standards. Keeping the playground surface clean and debris free plays an important role in the safety and longevity of your surfacing. Talk with your surfacing company about the details of this maintenance process.

5) Length of guarantee against defects in material and workmanship

One of the biggest challenges for a surfacing manufacture is finding the balance between resilience and durability. The durability lies in manufacturing a product that is both soft enough to provide long-term fall protection but also durable enough to withstand the wear and tear of typical playground use. You should be looking for a minimum 5 to 10 year warranty (depending on the type of surfacing you choose) against premature wear in addition to fall height compliance.

Shopping for a playground safety surface should be given careful consideration. Remember that lower initial price surfaces end up being the higher-priced option in the long term due to extensive maintenance and replenishment costs. Choosing the right playground surfacing company will save you money, and minimize kid safety issues.

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Sloan Bunting, co-owner of Prodek, Inc. in Glendale, California, is an expert on recycled rubber pour-in-place playground surfaces. Find more information on recycled rubber surfacing at: http://www.prodek.net.

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