Friday, November 20, 2009

Profit Motive Scales Down Today’s Playground Equipment


Safety and design experts had a lot to say about the latest generation of playground equipment at a recent National Recreation and Parks (NRPA) trade show in Salt Lake City. A common observation was that manufacturers not only are cutting back by using cheaper materials, but they also are reducing the overall size of products such as slides and climbing structures.

This is being done simply to reduce overhead costs, instead of providing playgrounds with the best possible products. The unfortunate end result here is a less exciting and enjoyable playground experience for today’s generation of youngsters, who as it is spend far too much time indoors in front of screens within walking distance of the refrigerator. With the considerable rise in childhood obesity and health problems compared to generations past, playground activities and equipment should be as fun as appealing ever, not scaled down and cut back.

Sure, today’s playground gear may be softer and significantly safer, but can’t there be a happier medium? Why can’t today’s slides, swings and other playground attractions be safe and as much fun as equipment from the 1970s?

Women’s lifestyle website Divine Caroline takes us back to yesteryear with a photographic review of the elaborate, immense climbing structures, slides and swing sets circa a generation ago. The designs that currently dominate the landscape in parks and school yards all over the nation pale in comparison in terms of visual appeal and their ability to inspire fun and excitement.

This phenomenon of cutting back on the quality and overall enjoyableness of a product reminds me of what’s happening to our favorite food and candies, which used to be packaged in generous portions. Revamped, watered-down recipes are changing the taste and texture of all kinds of food products, while at the same time giving smaller portions. And yet the price constantly goes up.

Take my favorite snack from years ago, the Devil Dog, which sadly is no longer what it once was. Today’s version tastes like saw dust thanks to a totally changed ingredient formula. And like so many slides and playground climbing structures, it’s about half the size it was in its heyday.

Playground structures definitely should not go the way of the Devil Dog because outdoor play activity is essential to keep kids happy and healthy. Consumer feedback to equipment manufacturers would be a good start toward improving their products’ appeal and entertainment value.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Surfacing Products Wear Out Quickly, Fail Safety Tests & The "Low-Bidder"



There’s this unfortunate "low bidder" mentality in the playground equipment and surfacing industry. Far too often, manufacturers cut corners and don’t deliver quality, lasting products, especially surfacing materials.

Simply put, many surfacing companies do not use the highest quality polyurethanes in rubber-based materials. So for example, the result is that the top layer of an EPDM surface, which is supposed to be 3/8 of an inch in thickness, ends up at 1/4-inch after only about a year. This will downgrade the surface’s ability to cut down the force of impact if a child falls, an obvious safety concern.

Similar corner-cutting also goes on with construction contractors who lay playground foundations and equipment footings, which aren’t poured according to specification requirements with a minimal amount of concrete. This results in unstable playground equipment after not much time in use.

SBR tiles are another extremely noticeable example of the “low bidder” phenomenon. SBR tiles are manufactured from shredded rubber tires, called “tire buffings” or the “retreats” of truck tires. Buffings are mixed with polyurethane, then placed in a mold and compressed into different shapes.

The polyurethane can be pigmented red, blue or green and act as a coating over the black SBR tiles. This colorful surface is usually short-lived, however, because foot traffic wears the colored polyurethane on SBR recycled tire shred, exposing the tile’s black surface. What happens six months to a year later is a blackened red, green or blue surface, especially on heavy wear zones near slides, swings and other playground equipment.

In addition to the color fading to black, there’s the shrinking over time that creates large gaps and traps dirt, glass, and debris, with the added problem of the surface becoming subject to vandalism. Vandals can easily rip shrunken tiles from the ground and remove a portion of the playground surface.

The most dangerous aspect of poorly made SBR and other rubber tiles is that over time, these tiles won’t meet the ASTM International fall test rating standard after they have been installed more than a year. This may be rubber or polyurethane hardening issues due to sun exposure or extreme cold, and/or the manufacturer may meet too closely to the minimum ASTM-1292 fall height and impact attenuation rating.

Cutting it so close to the minimum fails to leave enough of a cushion to account for wear and tear. So after a year the surface tile will no longer meet the standard development organization’s minimum a year later. This means it will less effectively break a child’s fall.

All this shoddy product manufacturing stems from companies trying to be too competitive and "low bid" their products to undercut the competition.

Florida-based EPDM tile manufacturer Impact Rubber Surfacing Incorporated notes on their website, ImpactRubber.com, “It has come to our attention that there is a new company in our area selling a painted rubber product for a little less per square foot than our EPDM surfacing. Before you buy this inferior and toxic product, you should know a few things about the differences between the EPDM product we install and the painted product they sell.”

The webpage, ominously headed “Buyer Beware,” goes on to compare its EPDM surfacing with SBR recycled tire products. This is a good example of the hyper-competitive state toward which the industry is taking a negative turn.

The site does aptly advise, however, to “know exactly what you're getting before you spend your hard earned money on an imitation product. Ask the company you're dealing with to provide you with their ASTM test results.”

Let’s Play Recreation, Inc. provides a great look at quality rubber tile. The company’s “Safe Guard Fun Tiles are pressure-molded and processed from 100% recycled rubber and urethane binder.” These tiles “can reduce impact from falls of up to twelve feet, and because they’re made from recycled material, they have little impact on the environment.”

This blog’s posting from August 11 provides a solid list of criteria for rubber surface shoppers to consider:

1. Company length of service 15-20 years

2. IPEMA certified (Int. Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association)

3. Factory-direct installation

4. ASTM 1292-04 (Impact Attenuation)

5. ASTM F-1951 (Wheel Chair Accessibility)

6. GSA-approved (General Services Administration)

7. ASTM E-108 (Fire: Pass a Class A)

8. Combined staff experience of 82 years

9. Computerized inventory & state of the art field equipment

10. Certified playground equipment/surfacing inspectors (CPSI) on staff

11. Broad product choices

12. References: min. 50

13. State-licensed for general & specialty product flooring

14. General liability, workers’ comp. & auto insurance of min. $2,000,000 -
      $5,000,000 in coverage

15. Bonding of at least $750,000

16. Extensive literature & specifications to minimize the approval process

17. 5-Year warranty

18. Dun & Bradstreet scoring

19. Active industry & community Involvement

20. Head Start Body Start physical activity consultant on staff

A sound solution here would be to properly qualify and accredit manufacturing companies according to the above criteria. “Low bidders” should know that it is not always strictly about the overhead cost and selling price, but many important elements that characterize a quality, desirable playground product.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Clothing and Sun Exposure: Important Keys to Safe Outdoor Activities


Sensible clothing is an essential part of playground safety. Bare feet are always a no-no, as is extensive sun exposure.

Toward limiting sun exposure, the National Program for Playground Safety advises parents and child care providers to avoid scheduling outdoor activities during hours of peak sun intensity, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. standard time. “If outdoor activities during these peak times are unavoidable, encourage the use of protective clothing and sunglasses, suggest playing in shaded areas, and, of course, always use sunscreen,” the organization states on its website.

The NPPS also supplies a “Quick Tips” list:

• Monitor the daily UV Index forecasts for your area (go to www.epa.gov or look in newspapers) and plan indoor activities on days of high sun intensity.

• Teach children how to identify and find good sources of shade.

• Keep infants and small children in the shade when outdoors.

• Plan trips to parks and places where adequate shade is available.

• Plant trees that provide maximum shade on school or child care center property.

• Purchase portable shade structures such as umbrellas, tents and tarps.

• Build permanent shade structures such as porches, picnic shelters and fabric shade canopies.

• Include shade covering in the design of playground equipment and recreational areas.

On attire, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission had this to say about helmets: “Make sure children remove their bike or other sports helmets before playing on the playground. Helmets can become entrapped in playground equipment, posing a strangulation hazard.”

Obviously school clothes and playwear are synonymous. “Dress your kids so they are able to play on the playground safely and feel comfortable in class,” wrote educator and freelance columnist Margaret Lavin on Examiner.com.

In addition to aptly noting that pants, shirts, dresses and skirts shouldn’t be too tight or too loose, Lavin also has excellent advice on shoes: “No open-toed shoes, flip-flops or high heels. Gym shoes are ideal. Also, check the laces. Kids are often tripping over 10-foot-long, filthy, tattered shoestrings. Velcro for little ones is a wonderful option.”




Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween! Safety Tips for Trick-or-Treaters and Parents



Happy Halloween! Safety Tips for Trick-or-Treaters and Parents

Halloween is an all-time favorite holiday of kids, young and old. The following are tried and true suggestions for making sure this fun-filled night stays happy and safe.

Naturally, supervision is the primary way to make sure things stay safe and enjoyable. A responsible adult or teenager should always accompany groups of young, eager trick-or-treaters. Just like on playgrounds, adult supervision is key.
While much of this Halloween safety advice falls handily into the “common sense” category, the following set of safety tips courtesy of the American Association of Pediatrics will at least confirm for mindful parents effective ways to ensure a safe and memorable holiday for all:
ALL DRESSED UP
Plan costumes that are bright and reflective. Make sure that shoes fit well and that costumes are short enough to prevent tripping, entanglement or contact with flame.
Consider adding reflective tape or striping to costumes and Trick-or-Treat bags for greater visibility.

Because masks can limit or block eyesight, consider non-toxic makeup and decorative hats as safer alternatives. Hats should fit properly to prevent them from sliding over eyes.

When shopping for costumes, wigs and accessories look for and purchase those with a label clearly indicating they are flame resistant.

If a sword, cane, or stick is a part of your child's costume, make sure it is not sharp or too long. A child may be easily hurt by these accessories if he stumbles or trips.

Obtain flashlights with fresh batteries for all children and their escorts.

Teach children how to call 9-1-1 (or their local emergency number) if they have an emergency or become lost.

CARVING A NICHE
Small children should never carve pumpkins. Children can draw a face with markers. Then parents can do the cutting.

Votive candles are safest for candle-lit pumpkins.

Candlelit pumpkins should be placed on a sturdy table, away from curtains and other flammable objects, and should never be left unattended.

HOME SAFE HOME
To keep homes safe for visiting trick-or-treaters, parents should remove from the porch and front yard anything a child could trip over such as garden hoses, toys, bikes and lawn decorations.

Parents should check outdoor lights and replace burned-out bulbs.

Wet leaves should be swept from sidewalks and steps.

Restrain pets so they do not inadvertently jump on or bite a trick-or-treater.

ON THE TRICK-OR-TREAT TRAIL
A parent or responsible adult should always accompany young children on their neighborhood rounds.
If your older children are going alone, plan and review the route that is acceptable to you. Agree on a specific time when they should return home.
Only go to homes with a porch light on and never enter a home or car for a treat.

Because pedestrian injuries are the most common injuries to children on Halloween, remind Trick-or-Treaters:
· Stay in a group and communicate where they will be going.
· Carry a cell phone for quick communication.
· Remain on well-lit streets and always use the sidewalk.
· If no sidewalk is available, walk at the far edge of the roadway facing traffic.
· Never cut across yards or use alleys. Only cross the street as a group in established crosswalks (as recognized by local custom). Never cross between parked cars or out driveways.

Don't assume the right of way. Motorists may have trouble seeing Trick-or-Treaters. Just because one car stops, doesn't mean others will!

Law enforcement authorities should be notified immediately of any suspicious or unlawful activity.

HEALTHY HALLOWEEN
A good meal prior to parties and trick-or-treating will
discourage youngsters from filling up on Halloween treats.

Consider purchasing non-food treats for those who visit your
home, such as coloring books or pens and pencils.

Wait until children are home to sort and check treats. Though
tampering is rare, a responsible adult should closely examine all
treats and throw away any spoiled, unwrapped or suspicious items.

Try to ration treats for the days following Halloween.

There are many websites dedicated to Halloween safety. Here are several useful links: The Halloween Safety Guide, The Los Angeles Fire Department, The Halloween Safety Game, Halloween safety news search results.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Playground Surfaces: Beware Bonded Loose-Fill



Don't Waste Your Money on Trowelled-Down Bonded Loose-Fill Rubber

So it seems newly created “bonded loose-fill” -- loose-fill rubber mulch adhered by polyurethane -- is gaining ground when it comes to surfacing playgrounds. While it’s ostensibly an inexpensive alternative to the standard poured-in-place, tile or mat systems, it doesn’t carry the same durability of these other, more time-tested surfaces.

For playgrounds, bonded loose-fill may be an interesting, relatively inexpensive alternative to traditional loose-fill materials such as wood chips, sand or gravel. But there’s no way it can withstand regular, heavy foot traffic over time.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission broadly holds that surfaces around playground equipment should have at least 12 inches of “wood chips, mulch, sand, or pea gravel, or are mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like materials.” This is to account for the amount of impact absorption necessary to reduce the risk of serious injury resulting when children fall from swings or other playground equipment.

In its April 2008 “Playground Safety Handbook,” the Commission extensively outlines how a safe playground surface should be laid down. It draws the major distinction between “unitary” and loose-fill surfaces: “Unitary materials are generally rubber mats and tiles or a combination of energy-absorbing materials held in place by a binder that may be poured in place at the playground site and then cured to form a unitary shock absorbing surface.”

Regarding loose-fill, page 10 of the handbook indicates that “CPSC staff strongly recommends against installing playgrounds over hard surfaces, such as asphalt, concrete, or hard packed earth, unless the installation adds the following
layers of protection.

“Immediately over the hard surface there should be a 3- to 6-inch base layer of loose-fill (e.g., gravel for drainage),” the handbook continues. “The next layer should be a Geotextile cloth. On top of that should be a loose-fill layer meeting [CPSC] specifications…Embedded in the loose-fill layer should be impact attenuating mats under high traffic areas, such as under swings, at slide exits, and other places where displacement is likely.”

Mind you, none of this is enforceable, these are mere guidelines established by the federal government largely to provide some kind of legal guidance when playground injuries occur, and corresponding lawsuits subsequently filed. It does, however, give a clear example of how quality playground surfaces should be constructed.

The CPSC handbook lists “shredded/recycled rubber” as an acceptable loose-fill playground surface material but makes no mention of bonded loose-fill, an important distinction to note.

Simply put, avoid the polyurethane-bonded rubber mulch. It’s better to spend extra funds for a long-term-friendly rubber surface such as poured-in-place, or to simply but properly lay down inexpensive loose-fill and monitor its rate of compaction.

Bonded rubber mulch may appear to be a less expensive happy medium between poured-in-place, tiles and loose-fill, to the tune of about $6 per square foot less than the other surfaces. But short-term savings can be deceptive -- a lack of durability over time will prove this to be the case.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Indoor Mall Playground Safety - Are Your Kids Safe?

Indoor Playgrounds - Are They Safe?
Well, it's that time of year again with school starting, summer is over, the weather is changing, and many of your children's activities are beginning to move indoors again. It's time for concerned parents to decide where your kids are going to be able to play safely. As it does every year, the number of children playing at the local indoor playground increases dramatically.

With this increase in activity, comes an increase in our awareness of the safety of these indoor playgrounds; are they really the safest place for our children to be playing? There is no traffic to worry about, score one for the indoor playground. But are there other areas of concern that we may be overlooking? Here are a few areas of indoor playground safety you want to look at before you allow your child to participate.

Indoor Playgrounds - Breeding Grounds for Bacteria?
One huge issue of indoor mall playground safety is the enclosed environment itself. Within any enclosed environment, there is always the problem of the accumulation of germs. Outdoor playgrounds are free from this problem due to the open environment. We assume because it is an indoor playground it is clean and safe, but the truth is, some enclosures can act as incubators for germs and they become a breeding ground for bacteria.

This does not present a problem when the indoor playground equipment is properly maintained. Make sure the indoor playground where your children play is properly maintained and thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis. Indoor mall playground safety should be held to the highest standards possible. Don't settle for anything less where your child’s safety is involved.

Indoor Playground Surfacing - Is It Safe?
Another issue you should address with indoor playgrounds is the playground surfacing, is it merely carpet over concrete, or is it properly surfaced with Poured-In-Place rubber surfacing? You may think "the climbing unit is only three foot high," but when your child stands on it, that puts the child’s head 5 feet about the floor.

You want the surface under that indoor playground equipment rubberized, not carpeted. You must insist on rubber tiles or rubber matting at the very minimum for safe indoor playground surfacing. We must also make sure the climbing units meet with current Consumer Product Safety Commission Guidelines, for indoor mall playground safety. The proper playground surfacing is a critical area of safety that cannot be overemphasized.

Supervision - Take An Active Role
Child Supervision at the indoor mall playground can be another area of concern for a parent. Parents who take an active role in supervising your children during play, will have an accident free visit to your local indoor playground. It's the perfect opportunity for spending quality time with your children.

Form friendships with the other parents at the playground and assist each other in supervising the children. By sharing the supervision duties with parents that you know and trust your playground experience will always be enjoyable. Finding the safest indoor playground for your children is easy when you follow these simple tips.







Monday, September 28, 2009

Consensus Lacking on Playground Supervision Ratios


It’s clear that adult supervision is the best way to prevent mishaps on playgrounds, whether they be school yards, back yards, parks or wherever groups of children gather to play. But an important aspect of this, narrowing down a viable ratio of adult supervisors to children, remains elusive.

The answer, of course, varies depending on the dimensions and specific characteristics of a playground, the age range and number of children present, as well as legal and administrative factors.

So the key question remains, how many adult supervisors should be present? And while there’s far from a consensus or clearly defined mandate, playground supervision is definitely an active, ongoing topic of discussion in the realms of tort lawyers, government agencies, educators and the broader playground safety community.

Columbia, South Carolina law firm Duff, White & Turner provides a detailed recommendation: “In the area of supervision, school districts should establish an appropriate adult to student ratio on the playground, preferably equivalent to the ratio present in classrooms, since students are even more active, and thus more likely to be injured, while on the playground as they are in a classroom environment. The adults assigned to playground supervision duty need not be teachers, so long as they have received appropriate training on effective supervision. This training should include proper staff coverage of the playground, proper use of equipment and how to handle a fall or other accident which might occur on the playground.”

Fairly straightforward, granted, but a bit on the vague side with regard to hard-number supervision ratios.

Eileen Hull, an executive in charge of childcare insurance programs at Market Insurance Company, is also on the vague side in an article for the teacher’s resource website Early Childhood News: “Whether or not your state mandates supervision on the playground, make sure your program keeps the same child-to-staff ratios outdoors as indoors. And remember, these are minimum standards only. Because of distractions, more staff members may be required to supervise the children.”

Hull did hone in a little deeper, as she continued, “Can one staff person adequately supervise more than two children on the playground? Usually not. It can be difficult to keep even a small group of children together on the playground, and a single supervisor can easily be drawn to one child and lose sight of the rest.”

The general rule of thumb, though still on the vague side, seems to be at least to keep the outdoor playground ratio consistent with indoor supervision. That would appear to be one supervisor per 25 to 30 kids. And with all the intangibles associated with kids at play versus being cooped up in a classroom, 1 to 30 seems too high.

The University of Northern Iowa houses the National Program for Playground Safety. According to its directors in an article on the PTA website, “NPPS recommends that the playground supervision ratio be equal to the indoor classroom ratio. However, a recent study in Iowa found that many supervisor-child ratios were extremely high compared to the recommendations. The largest ratio found the study was one supervisor to 125 children, and the most frequent ratio was one supervisor to 50 students. Two percent of the schools surveyed have parents volunteering to be supervisors.”

Regardless of where children gather, more adults present means a lesser chance of playground injury statistics continuing to rise. Maybe that last point about “two percent of schools” with parents who volunteer to be playground supervisors is worth exploring toward improving that all-important supervision ratio…

Monday, September 7, 2009

Top 5 Safety Tips for Safe Fun to Teach your Child


We all know that time of year when summer is winding down and we are all getting ready to send our little ones back to school. Kids will be playing with other kids on school and community playgrounds not always with your supervision. So it’s vital to make our kids aware of some hidden dangers on the playground.

Educating our children on some basics that can be easily taught and implemented and goes a long way in protecting them.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, over 200,000 children are treated in hospital emergency rooms across the United States. About 60% percent are from falls from playground equipment.

Approximately 156,040 (75.8 percent) of the injuries occurred on equipment designed for public use, 46,930 (22.8 percent) occurred on equipment designed for home use, and 2,880 (1.4 percent) occurred on homemade equipment (primarily rope swings).
It is important to take some simple precautions to increase the overall safety of a child and further the safe play environment experience.

1) Is Equipment Safe to Use? Teach your child to make sure the equipment is safe to use. This can be easily done by pointing out and demonstrating if equipment is broken, loose, or missing parts. Inform your child not to use such equipment and to let you know.

2) Adequate Surfacing? Look at the safety surfacing and make sure there is adequate coverage. Inform your child to only play on equipment that has adequate safety surfacing under the equipment. There should be Poured-In-Place, Tiles, Mats, Pea Gravel, Wood mulch, Rubber Mulch (Shredded Tires). Surfacing that has not been maintained properly should be avoided. Example: Most of the loose material needs to be at a minimum 6” depth. If a large percentage is displaced or missing then your child should know it’s “Choose Another Activity Time”. Poured-In-Place, Tiles, Mats should not be delaminated or missing in places.

3) Weather and Heat: This is important on so many fronts. Educate! Inclement weather or possible thunder storms in the area is, “Indoor Play Time” for your child. In addition, look at those hot days. Show your child how to test the equipment to see if it is too hot to go down that slide or climb on those railings. Do this by quickly tapping the surface of the equipment with your hand. I call it the “tap”, then “tap”, “tap”, “tap”, to see if it is too hot. In other words, quickly “tap” the surface once. If the surface of the equipment passes that test and feels ok, then do the “tap”, “tap”, “tap” method increasing the length of time with each tap. If the equipment passes this test then it is most likely able to be played on.

4) Moving Objects: This is really important. Kids swinging from railings, swings, slide exit points and moving apparatuses need to be observed by children prior to entering the playground. Sometimes with the excitement of play, kids fail to take notice of this. Take the time when you approach a playground to point out what activities are going to avoid getting injured.

5) Adult Supervision: Adults need to be present on a playground. Whether at school or in the park it is essential to have adults participating in supervising play. Tell your children before beginning play, to look for adults on the playground and only play on playground equipment when adults are present.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Surfacing Companies: "The Minimum Test"



I know it is sometimes tough to locate a qualified safety surfacing provider.
When selecting a full service playground environment provider, be sure that they meet
“The Minimum Test”:




  1. Company Length of Service 15-20 years
  2. IPEMA Certified (Int. Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association)
  3. Factory Direct Installation
  4. ASTM 1292-04 (Impact Attenuation)
  5. ASTM F-1951 (Wheel Chair Accessibility)
  6. GSA Approved (General Services Administration)
  7. ASTM E-108 (Fire: Pass a Class A)
  8. Combined Staff Experience of 82 years
  9. Computerized Inventory & State of the Art Field Equipment
  10. Certified Playground Equipment / Surfacing Inspectors on Staff (CPSI)
  11. Leading Website: http://www.letsplayrecreation.com/
  12. Broad Product Choices
  13. References: Min. 50
  14. State Licensed for General & Specialty Product Flooring
  15. General Liability, Workers’ Comp & Auto Insurance of Min. $2,000,000 - $5,000,000 in Coverage
  16. Bonding of at Least $750,000
  17. Extensive Literature & Specifications to minimize the approval process
  18. 5-Year Warranty
  19. Dun & Bradstreet Scoring
  20. Active Industry / Community Involvement
  21. Head Start Body Start Physical Activity Consultant on Staff

    And should they not meet at least 19 (90%) out of 21, it has been my experience over the last 22 years of being the leading full service playground environment provider that you should keep looking for a provider!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Loose Fill & Poured-In-Place, Bad Mix and Budget Inequality

I visited Cachuma Lake, California over the weekend camping with family and decided to take in some sights and walk off the camping food I had been eating all day.

I came across a beautiful playground with a nicely designed shade structure that was incorporated in the unit.

When I got a bit closer I noticed that the unit used two safety surfacing elements. One was the Poured-In-Place type to meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the other was a Wood Mulch that apparently was to meet budget concerns.

The play structure had synthetic Poured-In-Place surfacing around the unit to meet the need of Critical Fall Height (Head Injury Criteria) then sloped to blend into the Wood Mulch. The Wood Mulch continued the safety surface (Inexpensively) to create a surface that would meet the fall heights standards.

In theory, this is a way to cut the budget and try to provide an adequate play surface for this very large play structure and maximize the play area.

However, this is my view…

I understand the need to meet budgetary restraints and do not fault architects regarding this. However, I do blame an inequality in the distribution of funds in the failure to achieve a “Collective Safe Play Environment”. Budget dollars need to be distributed equally. It is obvious, where they run out of money. It is usually in the surfacing products and the landscaping around the play unit.

The problem I noticed with this unit is that all the budget dollars went into the wonderful play structure with no money left over for anything else.

In fact, the Poured-In-Place should have met a six foot CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) guideline even though there was a transition between two different surfaces (Poured-In-Place & Wood Mulch). I believe the transition should not have occurred during the necessary minimum safety zone of six feet (I usually recommend eight feet). Moreover, in most places I found the Poured-In-Place Safety Surfacing was less than six feet and the transition slope between the two surfaces was too great forming a tripping hazard. Most of the Wood Mulch was displaced from the surface transition edge and the Wood Mulch itself was displaced throughout the playground, creating a mess all around the entire area. This is due to the lack of routine maintenance.

I believe the decision makers should have with a more cost effective unit, and provided an adequate play zone. They could have spent more budget dollars in a long lasting synthetic surface that included the entire play area and met the ADA requirements. Then there would have been budgetary dollars remaining for adequate site furnishings and minimum landscaping. I think that some organizations and municipalities must put safety above all else. Safety first!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Spain and Children's Playgrounds!



I just arrived back from Spain a few weeks ago and already miss that wonderful place. What a beautiful and amazing country. I visited ten cities in just about two and a half weeks. When I arrived home, I felt as though I needed a vacation from what was supposed to be my relaxing summer trip.

What clean and friendly cities all throughout southern Spain! The food was less exciting than I had hoped. No real variety or flavor. What a disappointment...

And of course, I could not help myself and inspected a couple of playgrounds while I was there.

Wow, what a horrific site! Safety, what safety? It was a disaster.

Most of the play areas were in poor condition and not maintained as well as the city sidewalks. In Madrid the sidewalks get cleaned every night with power washers at roughly 12:30am (Madrid begins to get dark at about 10:00pm during the summer and dinner and everything is just later in Spain) but I digress, sorry…

The equipment as I stated, was not maintained after it was installed and the safety surfacing was the Poured-In-Place type. However, it was not completed with an adequate pour that would meet the minimum use zones nor a thickness that would meet the critical fall heights.

Let me explain further. The play structure needs to have a minimum safety padding around the play structure that will “catch” the child in case of a possible fall. The recommendation from the Consumer Product Safety Commission is 6 to 8 feet. I usually recommend a more stringent requirement of a minimum of 8 feet from the play structure. The Critical Fall Height of the play structure in our industry is typically measured from the platform height of the equipment. I again, use a stricter point of view here and look for any possible areas where a child may be able to gain access to, and will use this as a Fall Height Criteria. The Head Injury Criteria is to simulate a hypothetical child’s head falling to the surface. The purpose is obviously to minimize a serious head injury. So the play surfacing thickness underneath the play structure needs to be adequate enough to minimize this potential critical injury.

The overall play environment was poor and not stimulating for children. I could speak volumes of what it did not have and if you look at the "Collective Safe Play Environment" list, I think you can come up with your own conclusions. A picture is worth more than a 1000 words. So I have attached a few pictures.

Spain, like the United States, needs to spend more time in providing safer play environments for children. For both countries it starts from the bottom with Industry Experts, Community Leaders and Parents putting pressure on the local municipalities. Both countries need to create effective leadership councils that consists of the Experts, Community Leaders and Parents that can create educational guidelines, funding, and finally, enforcement to have municipalities take this seriously. The well being of our children is at stake.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What is "Safe Child Campaign"?



Providing “Collective Safe Play Environments for our children through:




Creativity in Design
Age Appropriate (2-5, 6-12, 13-17)
Superior Equipment Quality
Special Needs Friendly
Play Functionality
Educational Features
Open Space
Shelter / Shading
Superior Safety Surfacing
Landscaping
Site Furnishings
Child Safety
Child Security
Community Involvement
Green
Maintenance
Record Keeping

I believe it is vital to have all of these elements present in order to have an interactive, safe environment. Our children should want to continue to utilize these environments for continued play and education. It is unfortunate that in most areas around the United States they do NOT subscribe to the "Collective Safe Play Environment". I want to change this.

What are your thoughts?