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Digging Deeper Into Surface Knowledge

Date Published: Jun, 04 2013

Laying the right surface in your playground area can be a lot harder than you think. You can't just put down a couple bags of sand or mulch and say your playground is safe. You must research surface materials, find out what the requirements are for surfacing your play space and then provide a safe surface throughout your playground. Lucky for you, you can find all of that information right here on our blog.

Let's start with your options. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Handbook for Public Playground Safety, there are two types of surfacing material to choose from, unitary materials and loose-fill materials.

Unitary materials are surface materials that “are held in place by a binder that may be poured-in-place at the playground site” such as rubber mats, tiles and Poured-in-Place material. Unitary surfaces are cured after installment to form a shock-absorbing surface.

Loose-fill materials are surface materials that are not bound together by binders and are typically engineered wood fiber, or mulch. This mulch is not like the mulch you toss in your garden though; this mulch has been specifically designed for playground areas. Unlike garden mulch, playground mulch is compacted together eliminating splinters and maximizing shock absorbency. Other loose-fill materials are sand, pea gravel and rubber mulch.

Both of these options have one important factor in common, shock absorbency. On a playground shock absorbency may be the most important safety factor because when children fall off of play structures, trip and fall when running or fall trying new tricks they are going to hit the ground thanks to gravity, and it's inevitable. The more shock absorbency a surface has, the more cushion will be provided to fallen children. This helps lessen the impact of the fall, preventing serious injuries such as broken bones, head injuries and in some cases death.

Unitary materials must be cured after installment and is strongly recommended to be light colored to avoid blistering of bare feet. Loose-fill materials compress about 25 percent over time due to use and weathering, so it is important to consider this when filling your surface. For example if it's required to have nine inches of fill, then your initial fill should be 12 inches. This will account for the weathering and compaction over time.

All surfaces, no matter if it's unitary or loose-fill materials, must have a three to six inch base ground made out of gravel and must comply to the ATSM F1292 standards. Having a base ground allows for proper drainage and helps your desired surface perform better (refer to our blog post Checking Your Playground's Safety Surfacing for more information about base grounds).

For more information about surfacing or the importance of shock absorbency on the playground, please feel free you give us a call at 1-800-853-5316 and one of our certified professionals will be happy to answer all of your questions, help you choose the best surface for your play space and even schedule an inspection or installment of your surface. Also, review pages 8-11 of the CPSC Handbook for Public Playground Safety to learn more about surface importance.

Check back throughout the month of June for more in-depth information about playground surfacing!

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