It’s All About Play

October 21, 2021, Department, by Cicely Enright

2021 November We Are Parks and Rec Its All About Play 410

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Play is children’s work, and playgrounds are their workplace — a place where they can learn and develop coordination, cooperation, imagination and more.

In the ever-evolving marketplace, playground equipment is designed to encourage various activities, as well as to reflect a certain look. Alongside this evolution, the Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use (F1487) has supported children’s safety at play for almost 30 years. A subcommittee in the consumer products committee (F15) oversees the F1487 playground standard and takes the approach of furthering safety without limiting design.

“Instead of focusing strictly on design criteria, we look at the hazards associated with each type of equipment,” says Lloyd Reese, vice president of technical product management at PlayCore. Reese works on the subcommittee on playground equipment for public use (F15.29) as well as the subcommittee on playground surfacing systems (F08.63), which oversees standards for surfaces around playgrounds.

Now, a revision of the F1487 playground standard has been completed that references additional surfacing standards.

The Revision

The F15.29 subcommittee numbers more than 250 stakeholders — manufacturers, playground organizations, labs, academia, government agencies and others — who completed the F1487 revision this past spring.

Kenneth Kutska, executive director at the International Playground Safety Institute, LLC, and chair of F15.29, offers his expert insight. Of the new F1487, he says, “These revisions help clarify changes occurring internationally within the industry. Most significantly, this version addresses performance requirements related to new equipment types introduced in the marketplace that are not covered in the existing standard.”

Julie Boland, F15 member and NRPA vice president of membership and certification, adds, “All of these changes will help to provide today’s youth with accessible, safe and challenging play environments.”

Kutska notes that the F1487 changes begin with the standard’s scope: “There was a basic change in the scope to clarify and alert the users of the standard that ‘clearance and use zone’ requirements related to the playground equipment and its relationship to the protective surfacing and three-dimensional space around the equipment is considered within the standard.”

One newly expanded section of F1487 addresses both fixed and flexible track/trolley rides, which can have seats or a handlebar. The standard includes factors, such as speed and potential impact hazards, by addressing clearance and use zones throughout the path or travel of a suspended seat. “Getting these new requirements in this revision was important because it had gotten to the point where we were seeing many different types of these in the field,” Reese says.

Kutska adds, “We also added a better explanation of what the manufacturer, designer and/or owner needs to do to verify that the playground equipment and its protective surfacing use zones comply with the minimum performance requirements of this standard.” According to the standard, the verification shall be in writing by a qualified person and be kept as part of the owner’s documentation papers required by the standard.

In allowing for designer/manufacturer innovation and appropriate documentation, a new appendix addresses how a hazard identification and risk/benefit assessment process might be done. The appendix gives guidance and examples about how to complete this process along with information related to recommended maintenance practices for the functional life of the equipment and/or protective surfacing.

New sections have been added about equipment installation and maintenance that clarify the responsibilities of all those involved. The standard now indicates that installers need to have a qualified person put in writing that the work has been done according to the owner’s/manufacturer’s instructions, plans and specifications.

Boland summarizes: “The F1487-21 standard revisions help to provide clarity and accuracy to terms, references and responsibilities. These modifications are meant to ensure that the scope is inclusive of clearance and use zones for the safety of users; to reflect new findings related to equipment and safety; and to assist users with hazard identification and risk/benefit assessments through a new appendix.”

Supporting Safer Play

The revised standard covers the equipment itself, and it references standards for the surfaces around a playground that are integral to the entire system. Standards from the F08.63 subcommittee, part of the committee on sports equipment, playing surfaces and facilities (F08) provide further guidance on this component.

Last year, the F08 committee completed various changes primarily related to F1292 (the specification for impact attenuation of surfacing materials within the use zone of playground equipment). These changes addressed the performance requirements for playground protective surfacing. The committee also developed a new standard (F3313) for field testing protective surfacing for impact attenuation performance to surfaces installed around a playground, now referenced in F1487. The test method for determining impact attenuation of playground surfaces within the use zone of playground equipment as tested in the field (F3313) provides a uniform means to quantify how a surface responds to an impact from a falling object. That data guides the estimation of the relative risk of a head injury in children ages 2 to 12 due to a fall. This test provides the ability to compare surface impact attenuation to the results of the three-temperature laboratory test found in F1292.

Another added standard (F3351) is a specified fall height laboratory test. This impact test allows for reporting head injury criteria (HIC) and g-max (or the impact attenuation of a surface) at specified heights lower than the critical fall height. The critical fall height is the maximum fall height from which a life-threatening head injury would not be expected to occur, which is still based on the maximum impact threshold of 200 g and 1000 HIC.

Together, these standards support safer play.

Standards in Practice

Boland notes, “The ASTM F1487 standard is a critical component for our Certified Playground Safety Inspector and Playground Maintenance course, but most important, it is necessary for the safety of today’s youth who will be enjoying those very playgrounds.” That training covers hazard identification, equipment specifications, surfacing requirements and risk management.

“NRPA uses this standard along with other standards and the [U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission] Handbook to certify playground safety inspectors,” Kutska adds. “They have been doing this for over 25 years and have trained approaching 100,000 participants.”

“Standards such as these are necessary to ensure that children are able to safely develop their physical, intellectual, social and emotional skills through play on playgrounds,” Boland says. “The revision of standards such as F1487 is necessary to ensure they remain relevant and current in the ever-changing world of playground equipment education, development and innovation.”

The ASTM groups responsible for these standards continue to refine them as needed.

Take Part in the Discussion

Organizations that develop safety standards play a vital role in identifying opportunities for facility and product improvement - but your voice also is needed in the discussion. NRPA has represented our constituents at many of these meetings, but has found there is a need for more voices to be at the table. Take part in the discussion by joining the NRPA Park and Facilities Safety Standards Network on NRPA Connect.

Cicely Enright is Associate Editor for ASTM International.