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About Critical Fall Height in Playground Safety

Everything You Need to Know About Critical Fall Height in Playground Safety

Do you know that more than 200,000 children are rushed to the emergency due to injury caused by playground falls? It is also said that every year, about 15 playground injuries turn fatal.

If you are planning to turn your backyard into a playground for your kids, it is crucial to follow the industry standard of critical fall height while installing the playground equipment to ensure your kids’ safety.

This article will serve as a guide and let you know everything you need to know about critical fall height in playground safety. Make sure to refer to all the following points to design a safe playground for your kids.

What is critical fall height?

The critical fall height is a term used by safety researchers to indicate the minimum height at which a person who has fallen or tripped will be able to break their fall with their hands alone. This height changes from person to person depending on the person’s general size and gender.

You can also understand critical fall height as the height at which a serious injury happens. It is based on the height of the highest piece of equipment that a child can stand on while playing.

American Standard Testing Methods ASTM defines fall height as the vertical distance between a selected play surface and the protective surface under it.

Why is critical fall height important? 

The fatal injuries caused by a fall from a critical fall height during play can be averted by installing a shock-absorbing surface such as a rubber surface. 

Critical height is linked with the shock absorbency of the surface material underneath. Its purpose is to estimate the maximum fall height that would not end up in a severe injury.

You can test a surface in a lab or at a playground site for its impact reduction properties. Then, the critical fall height can be determined by combining the acceleration of an impact with the impact duration, particularly related to head injuries.

As per the Consumer Safety and Product Commission, you must cover all playground surfaces with a protective rubber or rubber-like mat. Or you should cover it with at least 12 inches of sand, pea gravel, mulch, or wood chips. 

But note that if you are using products such as bark and wood chippings, they can be blown away by strong winds, or they can rot away quite fast. So, it will end up in material loss.

Also, don’t install concrete, grass, asphalt, blacktop, packed dirt, or rocks as your playground surface.

The commission also recommends that the landing surface should be designed in such a way that it sticks out six feet at a minimum in all directions from the play structures. To avert falls in the first place, ensure that all platforms or ramps have barriers.

In addition, as per the British Standards EN 1177:2008, if your play equipment has a free fall height of over 0.6m, you need to install critical fall height certified flooring for an area of 1m around the play equipment. It is recommended that the fall height should not exceed 3m. 

If the area has a critical fall height of up to 1.5 meters, you should install 1.5 meters of safety surfacing area around the play equipment. If your play equipment has a critical fall height of more than 1.5 meters, you can apply this formula: Play equipment critical fall height x 0.66 + 50cm. 

How to test critical fall height?

Testers will drop a head-form (a head-shaped device with a built-in device for measuring acceleration) on top of a sample of the playground surface. They will then record the speed and hardness with which it hits the material. The test is repeated from different heights. Based on these heights, you can find out the thickness each system needs for protection.

Fall height measurement criteria

The critical fall height will differ depending on the type of equipment you use on the playground. 

In case you are using rubber mulch, and the playground equipment fall height is 8 feet, the critical fall height should have a depth of six inches. 

If you are using a poured-in-place rubber surface, there should be a depth of 3.5 inches.

You can refer to this list of fall height measurement criteria for different types of playground equipment:

  • For climbing equipment, take the highest part of the climber meant for foot support.
  • For upper body equipment, take the highest part of the equipment.
  • For swing sets, take the pivot point.
  • For seesaws, take the maximum height achievable by the seat.
  • For spring rockers, take the height of the seat.
  • For composite equipment where the components are linked, take the distance from the highest selected play surface to the protective surface.

Clearing misconception

There is a fallacy that using foam matting or padded carpets will provide enough protection from fall-related injuries. Unless you have tested the surface and it meets industry standards for Critical Fall Height, your kids are at a high risk of experiencing serious injuries.

Why choose rubber surfacing for your playground?

First, the Consumer Safety and Product Commission recommends covering the playground surface with a rubber mat. The material offers excellent fall protection and helps in averting critical injuries. 

The severity of a fall depends on the height from which a child falls and the resistance of the surface on which he/she lands. As per a 2000 study, if kids fall from five feet or higher, they are two times more likely to be seriously injured as compared to kids who fall from a shorter height.

Similarly, if kids fall and land on packed dirt, grass, or concrete surfaces, they are more likely to be seriously injured compared to kids who fall and land on rubber surfaces. 

Rubber mats are also recommended because they are non-slip surfaces, easy to maintain, shock-absorbent, eco-friendly, versatile, sound-resistant, and durable. 

Wrap Up

Whether you are planning to do a backyard playground or a public park, critical fall height is a crucial factor that you need to consider. And you should do it from the planning stage. 

No doubt, your playground should be interesting and entertaining, but safety should come first. Understanding the importance of critical fall height and using rubber surfacing for your playground will save your child from serious injuries. 

Follow the industry standards while building a playground for your kids and protect them from injuries.

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Creative Director, Rubcorp Distribution, LLC

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