When planning a new playground, chances are you’ll spend the majority of your time reviewing and selecting equipment. However, it’s important to think about surfacing from the start. Playground surfacing should not be an afterthought – the choice is just as important as picking which structures to install. Proper safety surfacing will help decrease injury and allow you to incorporate perceived risk on the playground in a meaningful way. With less cause for worry, children can play more freely.
There are two different types of playground safety surfacing: loose fill and unitary. Loose fill surfacing is comprised of either rubber mulch or engineered wood fiber (wood chips). While loose fill may be a lower cost option upfront, the maintenance costs can add up over time.
Unitary, the second type of playground safety surfacing, can be more costly at the outset but requires little to no maintenance over the life of the product. This type of surfacing offers numerous benefits. Unitary surfacing:
- Deteriorates less than loose fill surfacing
- Does not get displaced with playground use
- Requires less maintenance to keep its effectiveness in preventing injury
- Can be swept clean
- Is aesthetically pleasing
- Comes in multiple patterns and color options
At Playworld, we have our own unitary playground safety surfacing called SMARTE. SMARTE is composed of recycled rubber mulch secured in pillows that are topped with a unitary layer. Complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessible Guidelines (ADAAG), SMARTE is inclusive surfacing that provides stability, slip resistance and accessibility for mobility devices.
SMARTE is not only sustainable and accessible; it also has the lowest head injury criterion (HIC) rating of any surfacing product available today. HIC ratings measure performance of impact absorption. The lower the HIC value, the more protection the surfacing offers. The current industry HIC standard for playground surfacing is 1000. Serious concussions and skull fractures can occur at a HIC of 500. SMARTE has a HIC value under 500 for fall heights from 8 to 10 feet.
New legislative efforts may result in a lowering of the HIC rating standard to 700, which encourages safer surfacing to help protect against head injuries. Fitting comfortably within these proposed standards, SMARTE helps ensure you are providing the community with proper protection from falls for safer, happier play experiences.
What type of safety surfacing is used at your community or school playground?