Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 6: Play Areas/Playgrounds and Transportation

6.2 Play Area/Playground Equipment

6.2.3 Play Area and Playground Surfacing Prohibited Surfaces for Placing Climbing Equipment

Equipment used for climbing should not be placed over, or immediately next to, hard surfaces such as asphalt, concrete, dirt, grass, or flooring covered by carpet or gym mats not intended for use as surfacing for climbing equipment.

All pieces of playground equipment should be placed over and surrounded by a shock-absorbing surface. This material may be either the unitary or the loose-fill type, as defined by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) guidelines and ASTM International (ASTM) standards, extending at least six feet beyond the perimeter of the stationary equipment (1,2). These shock-absorbing surfaces must conform to the standard stating that the impact of falling from the height of the structure will be less than or equal to peak deceleration of 200G and a Head Injury Criterion (HIC) of 1000 and should be maintained at all times (3). Organic materials that support colonization of molds and bacteria should not be used. All loose fill materials must be raked to retain their proper distribution, shock-absorbing properties and to remove foreign material. This standard applies whether the equipment is installed outdoors or indoors.

Head-impact injuries present a significant danger to children. Falls into a shock-absorbing surface are less likely to cause serious injury because the surface is yielding, so peak deceleration and force are reduced (1). The critical issue of surfaces, both under equipment and in general, should receive the most careful attention (1).
Children should not dig in sand used under swings. It is not safe and the sand could be contaminated. If sand is provided in a play area for the purpose of digging, it should be in a covered box. Sand used as surfacing does not need to be covered. Staff should realize that sand used as surfacing may be used as a litter box for animals. Also, sand compacts and becomes less shock-absorbing when wet and it can become very hard when temperatures drop below freezing. Two scales are used for measuring the potential severity of falls. One is known as the G-max, and the other is known as the HIC. G-max measures the peak force at the time of impact; HIC measures total force during impact. Levels of 200 G-max or 1000 HIC have been accepted as thresholds for risk of life-threatening injuries. G-max and HIC levels of playground surfaces can be tested in various ways. The easiest one to use is the instrumented hemispherical triaxial headform. The individual conducting the test should use a process that conforms to the ASTM standard “F1292-09: Standard Specification for Impact Attenuation of Surfacing Materials within the Use Zone of Playground Equipment” (2).

For guidelines on play equipment and surfacing, contact the CPSC or a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI).

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
Appendix Z: Depth Required for Shock-Absorbing Surfacing Materials for Use Under Play Equipment
  1. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). 2010. Public playground safety handbook. Bethesda, MD: CPSC.
  2. ASTM International (ASTM). 2009. Standard specification for impact attenuation of surfacing materials within the use zone of playground equipment. ASTM F1292-09. West Conshohocken, PA: ASTM.
  3. Sushinsky, G. F. 2005. Surfacing materials for indoor play areas: Impact attenuation test report. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.