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Which playground surface is the safest?

Thanks to improved safety standards, playgrounds today are safer and injury rates have significantly declined.

Having a well-maintained appropriate playground surface can lower the risk of injury when kids take a tumble. But how do you know which playground surface will be safe and which one may contribute to a broken bone or worse?

In order to be safe, the playground surfacing should be soft. The variety of playground surfacing materials have their strengths and weaknesses but here are two things they should all have in common:

  • Comply with the NZ Safety Standards: NZS 5828:2015 which guarantees the use of safe materials, including playground surfacing.
  • Absorb the energy of a child’s fall over a long period of time.

The following list explains the pros and cons of different types of surface materials available.

Bark soft fall

  • Pros: low cost, spreads easily, easy to install, readily available
  • Cons: needs regular maintenance and a top-up, impact absorption weakened if too shallow, wet, frozen or combined with dirt, not suitable for wheelchair access

Impact absorbing sand

  • Pros: low initial cost, doesn’t deteriorate readily with usage, easy to install, readily available
  • Cons: combines with dirt; may compact, may conceal hazardous objects, may contain animal feces, attractive to animals, easily displaced, not suitable for wheelchair access

Wet pour rubber

  • Pros: durable, low maintenance, water-permeable surface, environmentally friendly, as uses waste product, suitable for wheelchair access 
  • Cons: expensive to install, gets hot in summer, bounce can compound injuries, can be slippery when wet

Rubber tiles and pavers

  • Pros: durable, low-maintenance, water-permeable surface, suitable for wheelchair access, can be installed over concrete, asphalt or other hard surfaces
  • Cons: very expensive, often needs a level site, bounce can compound injuries, can be slippery when wet