Playground flooring for public playgrounds: playing it safe

Playground flooring for public playgrounds: playing it safe

Any landscape architect commissioned with the planning and construction of a public playground must consider a multitude of fundamental planning aspects. The highest priority is of course the safety of the children when playing. The standardised requirements in this regard are regulated in DIN EN 1176 and DIN EN 1177 and form the basis for legal regulations.

WHAT FALL PROTECTION SHOULD THERE BE IN PLAYGROUNDS? FROM MULCH TO EPDM

Landscape architects can choose between numerous product and design options for both the playground equipment and the shock-absorbing playground surfaces – also known as playground flooring – provided that they have been appropriately tested and approved in Germany. Which playground flooring is suitable for each individual project depends on the design and the conditions on site. We have compiled the advantages and disadvantages of the materials available on the market to help you make the best decision. The range of playground flooring extends from loose bulk material such as sand, rolled gravel, wood chippings and mulch to rubber soft-impact mats and poured rubber playground flooring made of EPDM. In addition, some manufacturers, like us at Polytan, also have playground flooring with synthetic turf surfaces in their portfolios.
 

But first, let’s take a closer look at the standard principles.

Outdoor area of the Erich Kästner School by wbp Landschaftsarchitekten GmbH. Photos: Claudia Dreyße

FALL PROTECTION UNDER PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT - THE BASIC LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS IN DETAIL

As mentioned above, the requirements for playground flooring are essentially regulated in the European standard series DIN EN 1176 “Playground Equipment” and DIN EN 1177 “Impact Attenuating Playground Surfacing”. It is important to know that shock-absorbing floor coverings are mandatory from a free fall height of 60 cm. However, topsoil is sufficient up to a fall height of 1 m and, due to a national exemption, grass is also permitted for up to a height of 1.50 m in Germany. Playground equipment that causes “forced movement” – such as swings, see-saws or roundabouts – always requires a shock-absorbing surface. This is logical as the fall height of a swinging child, for example, quickly rises above 60 centimetres. How well a surface protects children from injuries can be seen from its HIC value. HIC stands for head injury criterion and is the parameter for the severity of head injuries. The critical fall height in children’s playgrounds starts at an HIC value of over 1000; If the value is below 1000, experts assume that head injuries will not result in permanent damage. From a fall height of 3 m, the law generally prescribes a fall protection device that cannot be climbed over.

No matter which shock-absorbing playground surface a landscape architect chooses, all products should be tested by an independent testing institute according to DIN EN 1177.  Products with a quality certificate in compliance with RAL or DIN-Certco (for example RAL GZ 943/3 Playground flooring) are on the absolute safe side. In a defined procedure consisting of production control and random samples, independent testing institutes check whether the installed product systems meet the requirements of the quality and testing regulations. Despite inspections and tests, the different fall protection products have significant advantages and disadvantages in their daily use and their intended use, solely due to their material-specific differences.

PRICE AND MAINTENANCE OF PLAYGROUND FLOORING: COMPARISON OF BILK MATERIAL AND PLASTIC

Many builders initially focus on the price of playground flooring. After all, local authorities in particular, as builders of public playgrounds, must always make price-conscious calculations. The fact is that loose bulk materials such as sand, gravel or mulch are initially cheaper to buy than synthetic sheets and coverings. But these lower acquisition costs are quickly offset by the high maintenance requirements of the various materials. Conventional bulk material must be loosened and sieved or refilled at relatively short intervals. The latter applies in particular to fast-playing areas, such as the exit of a slide or the seating areas under a see-saw.
 
In addition, deep cleaning of sand, rolled gravel and wood chippings or mulch must be carried out regularly – because buried dog excrement or carelessly discarded waste do not belong in the hands of children. Weather and rot-proof EPDM synthetic surfaces are a much more hygienic alternative for children’s playgrounds. They only have to be cleaned on the surface and do not lose their shock-absorbing effect even when wet – which can occur partially or even completely with loose bulk material. As synthetic playground flooring is water-permeable, the water is quickly drained away, no permanent puddles form and the surfaces are quickly dry.
Urban redevelopment Innere Hustadt in Bochum by wbp Landschaftsarchitekten GmbH. Photos: Claudia Dreyße

THE ADVANTAGES OF PLAYGROUND FLOORING: LONG LIFESPAN, ROBUST, SEAMLESS

As a manufacturer of poured rubber playground flooring, we recommend regular intensive cleaning with suitable equipment every two to three years for a service life of more than ten years – depending on local conditions such as shading or the presence of leaves from surrounding trees. Last but not least, synthetic surfaces are weather-proof and rot-proof, unlike their natural alternatives, which simply break up over time due to rotting. The disadvantage of synthetic coverings: only experts can tell whether they still have their complete absorption properties. Rotted mulch or compacted, hard sand, on the other hand, are relatively easy for anyone to recognise.
 

Poured rubber surfaces come out on top again when it comes to inclusion. Due to their smooth surface, they can also be easily accessed by wheelchair users. What’s more, even bicycles or children on stilts do not leave any unpleasant marks in the surface. In addition to the price and product-specific properties of playground flooring, the design potential of the material also plays a decisive role for landscape architects.

CREATIVELY DESIGNING CITY PLAYGROUNDS WITH PLAYGROUND FLOORING

In a remote forest playground, natural materials are certainly the right choice. Here, nature itself is the largest adventure area and mulch, for example, is the best fit visually and haptically into this environment. In our opinion, however, three-dimensional, colourful adventure landscapes in urban areas can best be created with poured rubber surfaces. The real highlight is that the smooth surfaces are non-slip and can be easily installed on curved and inclined planes. Colourful surfaces stimulate children’s imagination. On a dark blue surface they imagine setting sail, on a light blue/white surface they jump from cloud to cloud in their imagination. Polytan has already implemented sophisticated colour gradients as well as intricate symbols for fire, water, air and earth in special colours (like installed at our project Paulinenhilfe, Stuttgart, Germany).

CONSTRUCTION AND INSTALLATION OF PLAYGROUND FLOORING

Poured, water-permeable playground flooring has a two-layered structure: an approx. 15 mm thick top layer of coloured EPDM granulate and an approx. 30 to 115 mm thick elastic layer of recycled rubber materials. The thickness of the base layer depends on the critical fall height of the respective play equipment – the higher the climbing frame, the thicker the second, lower layer of the playground flooring. There is playground flooring on the market for a fall height of up to 3 m, in this case – as already mentioned – fall protection must be planned anyway.
Poured EPDM flooring fits into every corner, edge and unevenness on site, as they are installed in liquid form using the in-situ paving method. In this process, granulate is coated with a PU binder and glued together. The EPDM granules are 1 to 3.5 mm in size for the top layer and 2 to 8 mm thick rubber granules are used for the base layer. The drying phase takes around 24 hours, after which the surface can be walked on.
 

Those who prefer a playing surface with synthetic turf can also find suitable offers  on the market.

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FALL PROTECTION COMBINED WITH SNYTHETIC TURF

For playground flooring with synthetic turf, the upper surface layer consists of an artificial turf velour filled with quartz sand. Polytan offers these in two design variants. If the surface is to appear as natural as possible, the filaments (blades) are composed of light and dark green fibres. Those who like it more colourful can opt for blue synthetic turf or colourful inlays, for example with jumping games or graphics. It is good to know that modern synthetic turf nowadays is pleasantly soft to the touch and no longer overheats, thanks to the so-called ‘CoolPlus function’ – a development that came about as a result of the use of artificial turf in professional football.

CONCLUSION ABOUT PLAYGROUND FLOORING ON PLAYGROUNDS

Playground flooring is available in various different materials and designs – mulch, wood chippings, sand and gravel, as well as rubber mats and poured synthetic coverings made of EPDM. Skin-friendly synthetic turf with the CoolPlus function is also an option that is becoming increasingly popular for children’s playgrounds. In addition to the purchase price, the durability and care intensity of the playground flooring, as well as its design potential, should always be taken into account. Nothing excites children more than a colourful or near-natural adventure playground where they can run around as they please – without danger, thanks to fall protection. 

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