Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is a WOODEN Playground Structure Safe?

There is more to playground safety than simply the material selection.   This isn't an easy or simple answer.   Where you are utilizing your playground equipment may suggest that wood is not as an appropriate of a product as those made from other materials.   When considering a backyard playground, DunRite Playgrounds suggests that you review the Outdoor Home Playgrounds Safety Handbook from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) .  Therein you will find a some useful tips:

  • Wood must not be treated or coated with toxic chemicals such as CCA or creosote. 

  • Wood treated with newer, alternative chemicals may not be compatible with equipment hardware.

  • Proper parts should be utilized that have been provided or recommended by the manufacturer. 

  • Assembly instructions should be followed (yes, you should read them!).

  • Unit should be anchored to the ground as recommended by the manufacturer.

  • Surfacing should be installed under and around play equipment.
This leads one to believe that design, manufacture,assembly (installation) and maintenance are important, not only the choice of wood versus metals.    Keep in mind a few other factors:

  • Untreated wood will deteriorate rapidly.  As these products age, stability may become an issue.

  • Wood surfaces must be splinter free.  Given that wood is a product of nature, this is nearly impossible to achieve, and becomes worse as wood ages. 

  • The design of wooden structures often does not meet CPSC requirements for safety, with elevated play surfaces, nails and screws. 
WOOD in Commercial (Public) Facilities?

Many wooden structures are not designed for commercial use, and bring additional risk to children and liability to the owner.  Some guidelines and recommendations state that materials utilized should have a proven durability for commercial play. Many wooden designs will save you money up front, but become short term regrets as replacement and repairs increase.  With many manufacturers and retailers offering wooden products for play, ask for and review specifications.  Does the equipment meet the CPSC recommendations for design and safety?  Review the Public Playground Safety Handbook.  The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) publishes voluntary stardards for the industry.   Consult a playground professional, such as a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI).   "The Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) program is offered by the National Certification Board in coordination with the National Park and Recreation Association and the National Playground Safety Institute.  CPSIs are certified to inspect playgrounds for safety hazards and to ensure compliance with national standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). "
A long way to get to the simple answer: Yes and No.  Consult a professional for guidance.

Robert Haack, CPSI

Robert has worked with retail and commercial sales of playground, sport, athletic and recreation equipment since 1984.  As a playground professional, safety of your children is a top priority.   Robert's home playground structure for his children is made from Redwood. At his family church and  public school the playground equipment is a composite structure made with steel decks and posts, with components and design meeting proper commercial guidelines for playground safety!

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