A Calculated Choice in Playground Surfacing
Published March 31, 2021 | Credit: Softline Solutions

Surfacing choices and their life-cycle costs

Each year, over 200,000 head to the emergency rooms with playground related injuries. How can we do our part to reduce this?

Playground safety bases itself on factors of design, construction and maintenance.  

Softline FirstBase Playground Surface System

DESIGN: We all understand the Playground Design safety requirements for equipment and surfacing however when we are planning a new playground or even upgrading an existing playground, there is need to review the site design holistically.

The following points outline some of the items when we speak of safety in design:

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  1. Site location – will the finished playground be visually safe on a 360-degree periphery. Are there any shelters or area blocked from the line of vision from the surrounding street or public space?
  2. Flow – is the playground in a central location in the park space? Often, playgrounds are tucked away from the main park location which leads to increased vulnerability for our children.
  3. Security – if there is no option to work with an optimum visual playground, is there option for security systems to be installed?
  4. Site conditions – what was on the playground site before? Understanding the playground location is imperative to a great playground design. Is the site location on a 100-year flood plain, is it beside a contaminated creek? Is there natural shading?  

CONSTRUCTION: Yes - we all understand playground construction projects. However, what is unfortunately often missed is the playground looks great but what lurks below is not so great.

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1.      Is the drainage adequate? So many times, we find sites have insufficient drainage leading to sometimes stagnant, compacted loose-fill surfacing increasing the chance of failing to meet the Critical Fall Height criteria.

2.     Exposed foundation pads? This is often caused by defective installation or insufficient drainage. Soil conditions vary greatly, and piles can be installed to insufficient depth causing movement over time. This damages the surrounding surface and often requires the equipment to be realigned.

MAINTENANCE: The ongoing paramount factor for playground safety.

There are many basics in maintenance including observing and fixing any cracks, splinters (in wood play elements), tripping hazards, missing items such as guardrails, loose bolts and strangulation points. Most often we find playgrounds miss the loose-fill migration hazards which expose tripping points and do not provide adequate protection for the children. Keeping a loose fill surface maintained is onerous and is required often daily for busy playgrounds to ensure the Critical Fall Height (CFH) is met.


Triax HIC GMAX Testing Unit

Putting the numbers simply, around 10% of the emergency room playground injury visits per year are concussions. This means that over 20,000 injuries relate to head impact - generally resulting from poor surfacing with non-compliant Critical Fall Height (CFH). The CFH criterion is calculated using a Triax unit which when dropped on a surface from the determined fall height, measures the surface’s resiliency and reduction on impact. The measurements recorded are the HIC (Head Injury Criterion) and GMAX (maximum G force). To meet the ASTM F1292 and ASTM F3351 standards, surfaces must read at HIC less than 1,000 and GMAX less than 200 (we like to see numbers alot lower than this limit). For those that want to understand the meaning of these numbers quickly, the determined rate of brain injury happens at an impact of greater than 1,000 and a skull fracture can occur on a surface that is reading greater than 200.

Unfortunately, many surfaces that are poorly maintained record numbers way in excess of these numbers which are detrimental to the increase of concussion injuries at playgrounds.


The answer: any surface is safe if it is maintained to meet ASTM F1292 standards. The cost and requirements to ensure your surface meets that standard is the mind staggering difference in choosing best surfaces.

Although the initial cost of a loose-fill surface may seem more attractive, to maintain compliance to standards, the surface will cost more than a FirstBase Poured In Place surfacing within 3 years.


FirstBase Playground Safety Surface Cost Vs Loose-Fill Surfacing Cost

A quick assessment shown in the graph outlines the typical cost of installation and maintenance for a small playground. A small playground is around 2,000ft2 with a base preparation cost budget for all surfaces being the same at $10,000. The cost for the surfacing would be in the region of: -

FirstBase Poured In Place Safety Surface System             $28,000.00

Engineered Wood Fiber                                                       $13,600.00

Sand                                                                           $10,400.00

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The biggest cost is the often overlooked cost... MAINTENANCE.

Softline Solutions FirstBase poured in place safety surfacing is IPEMA (International Play Manufacturers Association) certified and meets the ASTM F1292 and ASTM F3351 standards. FirstBase surfaces have a lifetime of maintaining values within the limits of ASTM F1292 upwards of 20 years.

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Whereas, to ensure a loose-fill surface meets ASTM F1292 they should be inspected bi-weekly (or more often for busy parks) to remove any foreign objects, rake the areas (restabilizing areas with migration) and top up with loose-fill if required. A period of six years equates to 144 visits. Working with a low cost of $300.00 per visit and a budget of $1,500.00 to top up lost material each year, the maintenance cost amounts to over $42,000.00 in 6 years.  

Unitary surfaces should be inspected periodically, and the area swept or blown clear of any debris. These inspections are quick and easy to complete as it is easy to identify any foreign objects on the surface. Maintenance costs are around $200 per visit estimating four surface inspection site visits per year. Over a period of 6 years, the maintenance spend is only $4,800.00 - significantly less than the $42,000.00 spent maintaining a loose-fill surface.

Softline Solutions can confidently state that within 3 years, FirstBase surfaces pay off in lower maintenance requirements. Softline Solutions FirstBase surface is IPEMA certified and maintains low criterions for surfaces meeting ASTM F1292 standards.

In addition to this, the FirstBase pour-in-place safety surface system is also:

Are you interested in further information on Softline Solutions surfaces? Contact our team today at sales@softlinesolutions.net or call 1 877 362 3133.

Last updated on 
March 31, 2021