Like a building, a playground needs a good foundation. The Australian standard specifies requirements for:
- depth of fill
- the removal of pre-existing hazards like tree roots
The other hazard, particularly for poured rubber products, is the product may have been incorrectly mixed, or not poured to the required depth or affected by weather conditions. The only way this can be checked is to bring in some engineers with a testing rig, something Councils and schools are currently not required to do.
It’s no use having a perfectly installed playground surface, particularly of the high-maintenance bark mulch or sand variety, if it’s not regularly maintained. For sand or bark softfall, 20cm is minimum safe surface depth and ideally 30cm should be maintained at all times. In popular playground spaces this means bark particularly should be raked on a weekly basis and topped up at least quarterly.
Mandatory standards needed
Injury rates in playgrounds in the UK are seven times less than in Australia. This is despite their play equipment being higher than in Australia. What’s the difference? Unlike here, where playground Standards are voluntary , Workcover legislation is applied to playgrounds in the UK. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has also been running highly successful courses for local Councils on playground design and maintenance that are specifically focussed on what exactly causes injury and trains Councils to use their limited resources in smart ways.
The good news is, in Australia similar courses are becoming available. But while courts have found against Councils for child injury when playground surfaces aren’t maintained, until there is a stronger legislative requirement on playground compliance, the uptake on this education is unlikely to be universal.