Article

This article provides an introductory lesson on playground surfacing materials. Topics discussed include the variety of surfacing materials used and the depths at which these materials should be maintained to promote safety.

​Playground Safety - Expert Article on Surfacing Materials

Between 2001 and 2008, an average of 218,861 children received emergency department care for injuries sustained on playgrounds in the United States. Many of these injuries involved falls to the surfacing material beneath or around public playground equipment. (Sources: 2008, U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission study & National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, 2008).

Minimum Compressed Loose-fill Surfacing Depths


As surfacing material decomposes, compresses or gets displaced, the critical height varies and can significantly impact the potential for injury.

Once equipment and surfacing material is installed in a public playground according to manufacturer’s instructions and national standards and guidelines, it must be maintained in order to remain safe.

Proper maintenance is essential and includes regular checks of all the surfacing for depth and coverage, paying special attention to the following conditions:

  • Areas under swings
  • Areas at slide exits
  • Pooling water on mulch surfaces
  • Frozen surfacing


Unitary Surfacing

Unitary surfacing is generally rubber mats or tiles or a poured-in-place product. These products should be tested to ASTM Standard F1292: Standard Specification for Impact Attenuation of Surfacing Materials Within the Use Zone of Playground Equipment. Unitary surfacing generally requires professional installation. Manufacturer’s should certify to the buyer that the surfacing has an impact attenuation of XX from a fall height of XX.

(source: US CPSC Public Playground Safety Handbook)

Surfacing Definitions

Use Zone — The surface under and around a piece of equipment onto which a child falling from or exiting from the equipment would be expected to land.

Protective Surfacing — Shock absorbing (i.e., impact attenuating) surfacing material in the use zone that conforms to the recommendations in the US CPSC Handbook.

Fall Height — The vertical distance between the highest designated play surface on a piece of equipment and the protective surfacing beneath it.

Critical Height — An approximation of the fall height below which a life-threatening head injury would not be expected to occur on a particular safety surfacing.

(source: US CPSC Public Playground Safety Handbook)

Following recommended guidelines can create a safer playground environment for all children and contribute to the reduction of playground-related deaths and injuries.

 

Featured Expert

Lisa A. Thorsen, Ed.D., C.R.C., C.P.S.I.

​Robson Forensic offers playground safety experts from many of our regional offices. This article was developed with the assistance of Dr. Lisa Thorsen.

Dr. Thorsen specializes in the investigation of accidents and injuries involving educational, day care, rehabilitation and eldercare facilities. She evaluates the adequacy of administrative, procedural and safety issues related to injuries at organizationally based facilities. She has nearly 30 years experience working in, with, or administering care facilities and programs and is an expert in operations and compliance for the care and safety of children and adults, including individuals with disabilities, in public and private facilities and programs.

Contact Dr. Thorsen or submit an inquiry to determine which of our experts is most appropriate to aid in your investigation.