Play Equipment Safety Surfacing – All You Need To Know to enjoy your wooden climbing frame safely for years to come!
Why do you need playground surfacing?
It can add architectural interest to your outdoor space with a variety of materials and vibrant colour options. But it is more than just a decorative feature. When it comes to playground safety, we recommend that you plan from the ground up.
Playground surfacing creates an additional level of safety when installed below playground structures, and there are a number of different types of surfacing to choose from. Each surfacing type offers protection against injury, while some offer superior protection and long term value with few maintenance needs once installed.
About Safety Surfacing
We all know that from time to time children will accidentally fall from even the safest piece of equipment when playing. The purpose of safer surfacing is to cushion the impact of a child’s accidental fall and reduce the severity of an injury.
We recommend that impact absorbing surfaces are installed beneath all equipment with a free height of fall greater than 0.6m. As a general rule, if the existing surface is tarmac or concrete, safer surfacing should be installed beneath all play equipment regardless of the free fall height.
Types of Surfacing:
Engineered Wood Fibre – The engineered wood fiber surfacing works by forming a compacted layer that will support a wheelchair or pushchair etc. It provides a natural, organic outdoor look for your park or playground. For areas under elevated platforms and climbers, it also provides cushioning to reduce impact when kids jump down.
Loose fill Rubber Mulch – A durable choice that is also good for the environment, Shredded rubber is a loose-fill surface option that is made of 100% clean recycled rubber tires. This is normally available in many colours. The advantage to this type of playground surfacing is the tremendous long term durability of the recycled rubber mulch. The mulch does not absorb or retain water, and does not freeze and provides an impact attenuation for critical fall heights up to 12’.
Rubber tiles/matting– This type of surfacing provides shock absorption, and offers high wear and low maintenance for commercial parks or playground applications. Rubber safety tiles are normally available in solid colours and in many thicknesses.
Grass – A good, all-purpose surface, but with little wear resistance or impact absorbency in dry conditions.
Sand – Sand has become more and more popular as a ‘natural’ impact-absorbing surfacing material to go under playground equipment. Whilst it is undoubtedly an attractive surfacing for playgrounds, it should be noted that it does require a high level of maintenance.
Wetpour – Wet Pour is a continuous rubber surface that gives a high quality, hard wearing, slip-resistant surface requiring little or no maintenance.
Synthetic Grass – Synthetic grass is a cost effective all weather surfacing available with or without a pile and is an ideal solution for surfacing play areas.
Protective surfaces are expensive so before installing them consider:
– Site position, design and use
– Age of children
– Best value
larvae, beetles, invertebrates and bugs often like to live in areas like bark chippings. This means it attracts birds, they like to to dig it up and scatter it all over the garden.
Bark only lasts 6-12 months. It also compacts, turns to mulch and so needs constant replacement and costs money to remove. Children will get dirty playing in it and they will bring the bark in to the house/school on the soles of their shoes.
Cats also like to use bark chippings as a litter tray – it is camouflaged for all sorts of unpleasantness so you need to be careful and watch out for this if you are thinking of using Bark chippings.
Can require more maintenance as raking will be required in high traffic areas due to the displacement of chips during play.
Natural and bio-degradable but has a limited life span and will require topping up at regular intervals over the years
Rubber chippings are excellent products and a great alternative to wood chip, as it doesn’t compact, rot, blow away, doesn’t attract animals, doesn’t freeze, etc.
This innovative recycled product lasts for years. Unlike other types of surfaces, it is unaffected by the environment avoiding the cost and trouble of annual replacement – and it adds fade resistant colour to your garden all year round!
Requires some form of surround to retain the rubber as it is a loose surface.
– Retains no moisture and does not stay wet
– Does not attract pets and wildlife mess as it is not an organic product.
– Does not blow around or easily scatter. Does not stick to children’s shoes, therefore is not taken inside with them!
– Effectively maintenance free so cheaper to own
– Drop tested to BSEN1177 standards for playground use
– No heavy raking, topping up or replacement needed.
– Effective weed control
– Does not absorb water and nutrients
– Resists freezing
– Cost effective
– UV protected, fade resistant
– Dries quickly
Sand is one of the most popular – and developmentally appropriate – pieces of equipment which can be provided on a children’s playground. It provides opportunities for creative and construction play.
It has also received a bad press – primarily because of the requirements of maintenance and the effect on revenue costs.
The sandpit must drain properly otherwise it becomes saturated and stagnates. Where there is good natural drainage on sandy or loamy soils or on slopes a pit can be constructed. Where there are clay soils or no slope, a sand box may be better.
Regular raking will be needed – ideally on a daily basis but never less than weekly. Periodic forking is necessary.
Depending on the frequency of use the sand will need a regular disinfectant treatment – a weak solution of child-safe household disinfectant should be sprinkled on using a watering can or similar and sprayed in with a hosepipe (or substantial downfall of rain!).
Children should be kept out of the sand area for a day. Annual topping up and occasional replacement will be required.
Either laid over the entire play area or in high traffic areas such as the end of slides, under swings and frame access points. Grass grows through the mats and can mowed about the surface of the mat
Mowing and strimming will still remain a challenge and damage to wooden play structures can result if not done properly.
Lowest cost option for climbing frames in lawned Gardens. Least durable option as heavy traffic areas can end up as bear earth.
Can be difficult and time consuming to mow and you need to strim around the play structure, which can cause damage if made from wood.
A very durable and long lasting surface which retains the natural look of grass. Green all year round requiring minimal maintenance.
Proper preparation is required prior to laying. Allows easy clearance of leaves and natural debris
This is a permanent solution with minimal maintenance required. A combination of Shredded rubber and a binding agent, mixed and laid to the play area ensuring there is no displacement.
Allows easy clearance of leaves and natural debris. More expensive than other solutions but the advantages an outweight the extra cost.
How Much Do I Need?
The Design of your safety area is determined by the height of your Climbing frame. This ‘Maximum Free Fall Height’ will allow you to work out both the depth and extent of your safety area.
The depth of a safety surface is determined by the maximum fall height:
Below 0.6m – Play equipment does not require a safety surface. Above 0.6m you have two choices.
Loose Surface. E.g. Rubber Mulch, Barck chippings and sand
Fixed surface. E.g.Wetpour, Synthetic Grass and rubber matting
Each material has it’s advantages and disadvantages. It is up to you which product you chose.
– More expensive products such as synthetic materials and very head wearing and require very little maintenance
– Natural products are cheaper and more pleasing to the enviromant but require topping up and the safety depth can vary.
Below 0.6m play equipment does not require a safety surface.
Above 0.6m the minimum extent is 1.5m.
Above 1.5m fall height you need to add 60% of the excess above 1.5m.
For a 2.1m height deck – 2.1m – 1.5m = 0.6m excess
0.6m x 66% = 0.4m
1.5m + 0.4m = 1.9m extent
For swings the guidelines are slightly different. Assembled on synthetic materials (E.g. wetpour and synthetic grass etc) measure the length of the chains and times this by 0.867 then add 1.75m
Maybe this example will help:
If chains were 2m long x 0.867 + 1.75 = 3.5m both front and back (7m in total)
For swings with loose-fill materials (e.eg bark, chippings, mulch etc) measure the length of chains and times by 0.867 then add 2.25m
e.g. Chains are 2m long x 0.867 +2.25 = 4m both front and back (8m total)
There are many options to consider and many options you need to look at before choosing which surface you go for. We would love to hear your feedback and if you are currently using any of these surfaces we would love to hear what you think.