Playground surfaces not all equal

The surface children fall onto in playgrounds makes a big difference to their safety.
Learn more
  • Updated:4 Jan 2007



In brief

  • A good playground surface absorbs the energy of a child’s fall.
  • Bark mulch that is less than 20cm deep won’t do this well and inferior rubber surfaces can make injuries worse.
  • Playground safety standards should be made mandatory in schools and Councils just as it is in some childcare facilities.

The last thing anyone wants is for playgrounds to be boring. Children need to learn to test themselves and take risks, but they need to do so within an environment that is free from hazards they can’t see. Having an appropriate landing surface that is well maintained significantly lowers the risk of injury should children fall.

Fractures on the rise

Thanks to improved safety Standards (particularly the removal of unsafe playground equipment and reducing the height of structures) playgrounds today are safer and injury rates for the most catastrophic head-injuries have significantly declined.

The bad news is, fractures, particularly to the shoulder, wrist, forearm and elbow are up and have increased by 20% over the last decade, with those aged 5–9 years most affected.

Playground surfaces partly to blame

While overcrowding, lack of adult supervision and more ‘boring’ equipment that children misuse have been blamed, the biggest culprit remains playground design. For starters, random checks have shown as little as 5% of playgrounds comply with the (voluntary) safety Standards for playground surfacing.

But the surprise is that it’s not just about what children are falling from — mostly monkey bars — but what they’re falling onto. That is, children are mostly injured when they fall from play equipment onto a hard surface.

Protect your kids

If you’re putting a playground in at home:

  • Take care getting the foundation right.
  • Select a material you can and will maintain.
  • Ensure you lay the material deep enough.

If you’re taking your child to the local playground:

  • Be aware of how deep softfall materials need to be for safety.
  • If the surface is rubber, be prepared to call your school or council and ask some hard questions about its tested safety.


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