Thursday, April 19, 2012

How Hot IS a Shadow?

With temperatures rising already, spring seems sprung and summer must be close.   After finding scald range temperatures on the playground, I armed myself with the laser and headed out to play school nurse and put my thermometer test to everything I could think of on the playground.   The results seem to be consistent with previous inspections.  The weather this day was somewhat cooler, the weather forecast on the radio enroute said it was 75 degrees.  Wonderful weather to move the classroom outdoors and have lessons on the playground.   Be careful where you set the students, or burnt bottom issues may overcome learning.    Here are the laser guided temperatures from yesterday's test:

Sidewalk, concrete- non painted enroute to playground  101F

Wooden picnic bench adjacent to playground                  116F

Wooden picnic table  in sun                                              124F
                                   under shade canopy                          74F

Wood playground surfacing  in sun                                  109.7F
                                               in shade                                72.6F

Border timber around playground in sun                          135F

Wooden Ramp into playground                                        125F

PVC Coated deck on play structure in sun                       108F
                                                          in shade                    76.9F

Plastic Slide in sun                                                            119F

Metal Climber                                                                     93F

HDPE (plastic) Rock Panel Climber in sun                      112F
                                                           in shade                   84F

Spiral Slide in sun                                                             129F
                    in shade                                                          74.5F

Wood playground surfacing in sun                                   125F
                                              in shade                                70.3F     

Considering we are in a geographical climate where we run our airconditioners at home year around, perhaps we should move play time to the wee small hours of the morning, like 2AM.   I would still like someone at the state department of "we take care of the children" folks to tell me how to orient a slide so that it is not placed in direct sunlight.     Perhaps the wording of state daycare standards should suggest not allowing children play on the playground in a dress or short pants?   Perhaps a sign posted by a slide: "Although it may only be 75 degrees out here, your child will burn their bottom on  a 129 degree slide."  Well, maybe those aren't good ideas.    The intent and spirit are there though.   

I remember as a child seeing a little, old lady walking to the bus stop with an umbrella.  How silly, I thought.  It isn't raining.  Maybe she doesn't know it isn't raining.   Maybe she lost her sunglasses?   No, mom and grandma were much smarter than I knew back then.   It's cooler in the shade!

Copyright 2012 DunRite Playgrounds

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Value of Shade on the Playground

The Consumer Products Safety Commission in their publication "Handbook for Playground Safety"  (publication 325) cites a reference to the American Academy of Dermatology research indicating that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime.  Sunburn, heated bare metal, hot platforms, hot steps and ground surfacing heated enough to burn children are all referenced concerns.   Sun exposure is one of the major risk factors for melanoma, others forms of cancer and early aging of the skin.  Sunlight, whether direct of reflected contains ultraviolet rays, known as UVA and UVB.  UVA rays damage the skin by drying and creating wrinkles.  UVB rays are the cancer causing type, and damage can last a lifetime.   This isn't an issue only referring to sun bathing or tanning salon visits.   Sun exposure during early childhood may account for up to 80% of our lifetime totals.   The UVA and UVB rays seem to take most of the publicity and blame.  Sunscreens are recommended with high SPF ratings when our children are outdoors.   Perhaps UV rays aren't the only risk.

One line in the CPSC recommendations stands out as somewhat odd, if not impossible.  While conducting a playground inspection for a client, I stopped on the entry referring to a slide being oriented so it is out of direct sunlight.   I was a bit confused by the thought of trying to somehow rotate the structure I was looking at so that the slide wouldn't be in direct sunlight.  In my longitude and latitude, direct or indirect sunlight is going to strike that slide from sunrise to sunset.     I have now started paying attention to exactly how hot things are on the playground.   

Using an infrared laser thermometer I obtained a temperature from every surface I could think of during a playground inspection.  The results are nothing less than shocking:

Ambient Temperature   96F (as a reference point, the thermometer on the wall outside this building would say it was this temperature outside)

Concrete Sidewalk enroute to playground 102F

Blue ramp into playground         (in sun)               125F

                                                         (in shade)           90.8F

Black border timber perimeter  (in sun)               130F

                                                         (in shade)           99.9F

Engineered Wood Surfacing       (in sun)               128.3F

                                                         (in shade)           87.7F

Coated metal deck                        (in sun)              105F,111.5F

                                                         (in shade)           91F,92.4F

PVC Roto-Molded Slide               (in sun)                100.8F

                                                         (in shade)           86F

PowderCoated Steel Post            (in sun)               93.9F

                                                          (in shade)          89.3F

Metal Climber                                (in sun)               90.4F                    

I remember learning to dip my wrist or elbow into the bath water to ensure the water temperature wasn't too hot, around 100F or less.  I learned to set my hot water heater to 110F to prevent scalds.  Some of the temperatures above are far higher than what would be expected to cause a first degree burn.   Children have thinner skin than adults and will react to these temperatures more quickly or more severely than to the adults supervising the children at play on the playground.     I was able to find a reference ( that states a 3rd degree burn can occur from hot water at 140F in 15 seconds.   With the temperature reading on the wood surfacing under the playground at 128F, the very material meant to protect lives may be causing a risk.    More than 15 seconds on the playground seems like a somewhat regular occurrence.  While the burn statistics I can find seem to be water related, 20 minutes on a playground with temperature readings this high seems to be somewhat more than only a risk to our children. 
I will continue to look for a way to orient a slide out of direct sunlight.  In the meanwhile, I think we need a shade cover over the playground!