Playgrounds are popular fixtures among children everywhere, but without proper maintenance, they can potentially be dangerous. Your regular building maintenance efforts should include your facility's playground and any other exterior equipment on the property, especially since playgrounds see such heavy use from children.
One of the foundational elements of playground safety is, in fact, the foundation - or surface - of the playground. To help you keep your recreational facilities safe, it's important to know some of the more recent standards governing playground surfaces, as well as any important maintenance-related points.
Fight fall-related injuries with proper surfacing
According to KidsHealth, around 200,000 children are treated in emergency departments for injuries sustained on the playground every year. Even more surprising, according to the National Program for Playground Safety, 70 percent of these injuries are sustained due to falls.
In the past, facility managers of playgrounds have tended toward asphalt. While asphalt is largely a thing of the past according to Athletic Business, new innovations in surfaces have brought new considerations, standards and compliance procedures facility managers should be aware of. For example, the source pointed out the importance of ensuring a facility's playground maintains compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In general, asphalt should be avoided in favor of safer options. These can range from sand and pea gravel to poured rubber matting.
While there is no specific federal or industry standard dictating which surface is regarded as the "best," the NPPS highlighted a few points that FMs should consider when deciding how to fill in a playground's surface. If, for example, a playground consists primarily of climbing equipment used by small children, a rubberized floor material may be a good idea. It's soft enough to help break falls, fairly maintenance-light and can be customized to a variety of colors and visual patterns that children may find appealing. The source also noted that other loose-fill options such as wood fibers tend to be popular choices.
Know how to properly maintain your playground's surface
According to Recreation Management, the most important aspect of playground maintenance is frequent and regular inspection. The ability to locate and fix any unforeseen maintenance issues is key in preventing accidents due to poorly maintained equipment, and surfaces are no different.
Loose-fill surface options are good for safety, but facility managers should be sure to keep an eye out for hazards such as unbalanced or non-level areas. As kids move and play and surface material gets shuffled, moved or kicked, it can create uneven areas, especially in high-traffic parts of the playground. These areas represent hidden trip and fall hazards for kids.
Unitary surfacing - single-sheet or poured rubber mats or artificial turf - come with their own special maintenance considerations. Unlike pits of pea gravel or sand, rubber surfaces must be kept clean and free of debris. In colder temperatures, it's also important to make sure that rubber mats don't freeze - this can cause them to harden, removing much of the safety benefit they normally provide.