When it comes to the safety of children, compromises of any kind are inadmissible. Parents expect their children to be offered a playground that meets a certain standard of quality and grade to ensure safety, with minimal need of adult supervision. Thus, the creation of an ideal playground requires a great deal of insight and hardwork on the developer’s part.
The Importance of Safety Standards
One of the few ways to ensure that a playground unit adheres to safety standards, at large, is to get it manufactured by experts in the field. These experts are certified to design, create and install safe playground units.
Certifications such as the EN1176 for the European Union and the ASTM for the US are internationally accepted. Unfortunately, India does not have any legislation that actually enforces a company’s compliance to safety standards in terms of playgrounds. Therefore, one can find several units made of unstable material that disintegrate within a short period of time. However, there are playground units that are available with certifications and with an eyeon-detail, as far as safety standards are concerned.
When developing a playground unit, there are several safety standards that need to be observed to almost scientific precision. A good playground unit is one that is desgined as per age groups. An ideal segregation would be up to preschoolers in one category and, school-going children in the other. Both these playgrounds should ideally be set up far from each another, so that underage children do not attept to use games that could be hazardous for them.
All playground units have elevated surfaces for swings and slides. Depending on the age group, there has to be a specific fall height—for pre-schoolers, it should be 5 ft and 7 ft for school going children.
In fact, the manufacturing, design and installation of equipment have to be such that the chances of falling from a height are minimised as much as possible. All elevated surfaces must have protective barriers (EN standards prescribe these to be a minimum of 700 mm high) and vertical guards have to be used instead of horizontal ones. This will prevent children from climbing to higher levels. Also, the surfaces of all the guard rails have to be peaked or curved, thus discouraging children from using the surface for play. An important aspect of all playground units is safety flooring. This is to provide cushioning for them as they come down a slide or in the case of a fall.
In India, the use of sand is most common and widely accepted these days. However, sand is not hygienic by any standards. It also contains a lot of debris, which pose a high risk of cuts due to the presence of stray pieces of glass or tin. Good playgrounds also have safety mats installed that go around up to six ft from where the actual unit stands. These should ideally be made of nontoxic EPDM rubber and have no visible interlocking system. Such safety mats should also be non-flammable, slip-resistant, have indentation, and of course, durability. In fact, there are certifications for safety mats as well, such as BS 7188 and BS EN 1177.
Quality of Materials Used
Playground units that are made of materials such as fibre glass, wood and metal, are by no means safe for children. Fibre glass and wood are susceptible to weather changes and tend to wear out, leaving sharp surfaces as a result of chipping and splintering, causing children to easily hurt themselves on them. Metals heat up during summers, becoming a cause for friction burns while sitting or sliding down.
The ideal playground unit has upright posts made of flow coated/hot dipped galvanised steel with an outer diameter of at least 114 mm (base plates too have to be of the same proportions). Steel of technical standards BS1387–1985 should ideally be used and finished with lead-free paints. All plastic surfaces, such as the slides and swings, should be made with virgin LLDPE and have to be rotationally moulded in place. Such details in manufacturing make the playground unit weather-proof and extremely durable. Also, clamps and couplings are to be made of pretreated, cured and sand-blasted aluminium.
Using the ideal materials is not enough to ensure a safe piece of playground equipment. Workmanship is of equal importance during the manufacturing process. For example, all welding must be carried out via robotic engineering to ensure that the precision levels are exact. This is especially required for games such as the spiral climber, the top rails of swings, monkey bars, as well as swinging stones.
Durability of play systems can take a huge beating in Indian weather conditions. Materials such as fibre glass begin to crack: wood-based planks rot and break as movable parts are generally loose and can easily fall off. Moulded plastic is, thus, the ideal material for play units.
Manufacturing a playground unit is not the end of the story. In fact, it is just as important to ensure that the unit is installed correctly. The manufacturer will have to visit the site and ensure that the concrete footing, or the base that will hold the playground unit is placed properly. Conventionally, a site is manually marked and units are assembled. However, playground manufacturers will have to make sure that everything is marked with precision using AutoCAD. The column-and-deck method of assembly usually works well. Units manufactured have to be modular in nature to make assembly an easy task. It is important to have experienced installers who can get the job done faster and, most importantly, correctly.
The author is Managing Director, Koochie Play Systems International—a playground equipment designing and manufacturing company