Got Mulch? | April 15, 2015
Travis Thompson – Director of Risk Management &
Greg Hennecke – Risk Management Representative
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, free, unstructured play is essential for keeping children healthy, and for helping them reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones. However, unstructured play introduces significant opportunity for injury from falls to the play surface. Falls to the play surface are the most common cause of injury on playgrounds. Understanding that children need to play, loss control efforts must be concentrated on reducing the severity of injury instead of removing the opportunity to play.
Spring is the perfect time to address a significant contributor to injury severity. The surface beneath and around playground equipment can greatly influence the severity of injury from a fall. Differing types and amounts of surfacing materials can change an expected result of a fall from catastrophic brain injury to simple bumps and bruises. Understanding how to select the proper type of surfacing and making sure that the critical depth of the material is maintained is the responsibility of the playground owner.
The primary purpose of safety surfacing is to reduce the severity of head injury of children falling to the surface. The types and depth of the materials to accomplish this purpose are dependent on the material's ability to absorb the force of impact and the greatest distance a child could fall. Fall distance is determined by measuring from the highest designated play surface to the ground. Here is a brief list of standard playground equipment and their designated play surfaces:
- Swing sets – height of pivot point of chain connection (under the top bar).
- Slides – height of transition platform.
- Climbers – highest point where child can sit, stand or walk by design.
- Composition structures – highest designated play surface.
- Merry-Go-Rounds – height of the deck.
- Spring Animals – height of the seat.
- Slide Poles – 60” below the highest point of the pole.
- Balance Beam – height of the beam.
Absorption data of safety surfacing material is described by the material's critical height value. Critical height is the distance of a fall from which a life threatening head injury would not be expected. The critical height of the surfacing material must equal or exceed the fall distance of the playground equipment. Critical height values are supplied by the manufacturer or supplier of the surfacing material. These values are often documented in a certification of material letter following ASTM F1292 testing data. We recommend that you obtain this documentation for your surfacing material as the data could prove extremely beneficial in your defense should legal action be taken against the owner of the playground. Typical surfacing materials are included in the chart below.
Placement of the surfacing material directly under the play equipment is easy to understand. However, there is a likelihood that children playing on the equipment could fall outside of the immediate support structure of the equipment. This area outside of the support structure is called the use zone. Use zones are typically 72” to 96” around the equipment depending on its design and use.
Diagrams to better illustrate use zones for typical playground equipment include:
For stationary equipment, the use zone is to extend 72” from the perimeter of the equipment.
The use zone is to extend 72” on each side and from the entrance. The use zone should extend a minimum of 72” to a maximum of 96” at the slide exit region. This range is dependent upon the height of the transition platform.
The use zone extends 72” from the sides of the support posts. For the motion area, height is calculated as the distance from the pivot point down to the surface. Multiply “H” by 2 and measure this distance to the front and to the rear.
All of the information detailed above comes from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Public Playground Handbook. Your risk manager can provide direction and recommendations from this handbook to better prepare you to safely operate your playgrounds. Children of all ages need to play and should not suffer needless catastrophic injury. Contact us for assistance with your playground questions.
The images from this article have been taken from the CPSC Handbook for Public Safety #25, 2010 Edition. To view the entire document online, please visit: http://www.cpsc.gov//PageFiles/122149/325.pdf