Safe landings: How to choose the best surface material for your playground

by | Feb 3, 2021 | Play Safety


Considerable research has concluded that the frequency and severity of injuries, resulting from falls in the playground, is reduced where adequate impact attenuating surface material has been installed. As laid out in the Australian Standards AS:4422 and AS:4685; impact attenuating (absorbing) surfacing must be provided where the risk of falls from play equipment is possible. This applies to any equipment with a height of 600mm or more due to the increasing risk level associated with falls of this height. As a guide, impact areas should extend for at least 1500mm in any possible direction of fall.

Softfall Materials: which to choose

Understanding playground surfaces and safety and how to meet the standards can simplify the task of designing and operating a playground. No matter the equipment or layout of a play space, there is always a need for surface coverings around the impact area of equipment. Of these covers, Softfall is the most important because it uses impact absorbing properties to disperse force and energy in the event of a fall.

Softfall materials are classified into two groups – solid or loose materials.

Loose materials or ‘loosefill’ includes mediums made up of small particles like sand, woodchip and mulches. One major benefit to loosefill materials is the relatively low cost, however the downside is that maintenance is required in the form of raking, cleaning and topping up to ensure a consistent depth of at least 200mm in all areas.

Solid materials, including rubber matting and wet pour rubber are the other popular choice for Australian playgrounds. These types of rubber surface tend be more expensive, but can exceed the lifespan of loosefill material without requiring the same maintenance or upkeep. If installing this sort of material, you should request a certificate of compliance with AS:4422 to ensure adequate impact absorption properties.

Other Surface Options?

Once the impact areas have an appropriate surface, it is important to consider the other surfaces in the play space. How will they be used and what risks may arise? The remaining areas require coverings that will not become a slip hazard or heat up too much in the sun.
One classic option is grass turf within a space. Grass can be cheap, accessible and easy to establish and maintain but will require mowing and watering to keep alive.

Grass is also handy to keep an area cool. The high water content of every blade of grass means up to 50% of the suns heat can be eliminated. Consider grass in areas where sun exposure may not be avoidable as it will remain cooler than other alternatives.

Landscaping solutions such as loose stones or paving can help to form long-lasting pathways or surfaces where maintenance is impractical. From a design perspective, these sorts of surfacing can be very visually pleasing. However, if incorrectly positioned or allowed to deteriorate, these surfaces could become hazardous.

Surface Testing

Regular testing is critical to managing any play space. In particular, testing must be conducted on solid surfaces every 3 years to ensure adequate impact absorption. A qualified playground inspector will carry out this testing using specialised equipment. Loose fill material must also be assessed regularly, luckily, the testing method is much more simple. Inspect loosefill for contamination (glass, animal waste, etc.) and ensure a depth of at least 200mm is maintained.

Need some advice about your playground?

Kidsafe Qld are specialists in injury prevention. Our mission is to keep kids out of hospital and prevent injuries at home, on the road and at play. We offer comprehensive playground inspection and consultation services and run regular playground visual inspection training courses. Call Kidsafe Qld 07 3854 1829

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