Playground surfaces not all equal

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

02.Surface materials

In order to be safe, the surface under all playground equipment should be soft. The variety of playground impact absorbing surface materials each have a distinct list of strengths and weaknesses but there’s two things they should all have in common:

  1. They comply with the Australian/New Zealand Playground Surfacing Standard AS/NZS 4422:1996 Playground surfacing – Specifications, requirements and test method.
  2. They absorb the energy of a child’s fall over a long period of time and over a great distance. That is, the child sinks into the surface and doesn’t rebound.

The following tables shows the pros and cons of the different surface materials which are available.

Surface material comparison
Bark softfall (composted lignin mulch)
Advantages
  • Low initial cost
  • Spreads easily
  • Easy to install
  • Readily available
Disadvantages
  • Easily displaced
  • Needs weekly maintenance and a top up at least four times a year
  • Impact absorption weakened if depth inadequate, wet, freezes or combines with dirt
  • Conceals hazardous objects (broken bottles, syringes)
  • Not suitable for wheelchair access
Traps
  • Watch out for timber-based products with sharp edges or product so fine it can be inhaled.
  • Be sure to install to the suggested minimum depth of 40cm.
Impact absorbing sand
Advantages
  • Low initial cost
  • Doesn’t deteriorate readily with usage
  • Easy to install
  • Readily available
Disadvantages
  • Combines with dirt or may compact
  • Conceals hazardous objects (broken bottles, syringes)
  • Conceals animal faeces
  • Attractive to animals
  • Easily displaced
  • Not suitable for wheelchair access
Traps
  • Not all sand is good sand. Some sand types compact to concrete-like hardness. It must be impact absorbing, suitable for playgrounds.
  • Be sure to install to the suggested minimum depth of 40cm.
Wet pour rubber
Advantages
  • Durable, low maintenance
  • Water permeable surface
  • Environmentally friendly as uses waste product
  • Suitable for wheelchair access
Disadvantages
  • Can be expensive to install
  • Can get very hot in summer
  • Bounce can compound injuries
  • Can be slippery when wet
Traps
  • A visual inspection cannot tell you a good rubberised surface from a poor one. Only certified testing can, so contact your school or Council for information on their compliance testing if you are unsure.
Rubber tiles and pavers
Advantages
  • Durable, low maintenance
  • Water permeable surface
  • Suitable for wheelchair access
  • Can be installed over concrete, asphalt or other hard surfaces
Disadvantages
  • Extremely expensive
  • Often needs a level site
  • Bounce can compound injuries
  • Can be slippery when wet
Traps
  • Curling tiles can be a trip hazard
  • A visual inspection cannot tell you a good rubberised surface from a poor one. Only certified testing can, so contact your school or Council for information on their compliance testing if you are unsure.
 

Bounce is bad

The big problem with rubber is it induces bounce. And when it comes to injury, bounce is bad as children can rebound several times on the injured part, exacerbating an injury.

There is a rubber product from a company in Queensland, A1 Rubber, that overcomes this problem with the insertion of polystyrene foam embedded in the rubber product. If you’re installing a playground they’re worth seeking out. But unfortunately as a parent, there is no way of visually recognising a rubber playground surface with this protective property.

 

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