Natural Playgrounds Meet Safety Standards
Our team is composed of some of the most knowledgeable professionals when it comes to safety. Throughout the design process we are consistently considering safety and making sure each projects meets every necessary guideline and regulatory standard.
One of the first things clients ask about is safety. A common misconception implies that natural playgrounds cannot be designed to meet required safety standards. In fact, natural playgrounds provide challenging environments for children of all ages and sizes, where they learn important risk evaluation skills more effectively—and safely—than in traditional playgrounds. At Bienenstock, we take safety very seriously and we make sure that our designs reflect our beliefs. There’s an important distinction between risk—which is increasingly seen as a positive aspect of play—and hazard; we stay current on this distinction and consider it in all of our designs.
We always design our natural playgrounds to meet ASTM F1487-17 and CAN/CSA Z614-14 standards. We use these standards as minimum guidelines for the safety of children. Interestingly, catastrophic injuries occur less frequently on natural features when compared to plastic post and platform playgrounds. Additionally, research has consistently shown that vandalism, aggressive behaviour and bullying rates are all reduced in direct proportion to the amount of tree canopy and access to nature that exist in a play space.
To ensure that your playground stays safe and fun, we provide all of our clients with Operations and Maintenance Manuals. These describe each natural playground equipment in detail, indicating its intended use and audience by age. We also describe what to look for regarding malfunction and wear patterns, and how to fix minor deficiencies.
Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds are designed to maximize fun and developmentally appropriate play and exploration. Rest assured that when your children experience nature in Bienenstock playgrounds, they will be safe, supported and challenged to be their most joyful and adventurous selves.
Playground Safety Concerns
Our natural playground designs incorporate graduated risk for the age groups listed in the CAN/CSA and ASTM standards. These graduated risks allow children to push their own limits in a safe, controlled environment.
Falls from critical heights are the largest contributor to child injuries in playgrounds. At Bienenstock we have mitigated these risks by changing how playgrounds are designed and eliminating the most dangerous components of traditional play structures.
There are numerous studies about children's injury rates. They show that:
Falls are the number one cause of playground injuries. Falls from playground equipment are four times more likely to result in severe fractures than falls from standing heights.Climbing apparatus cause more injuries than any other standard play structure.Falls from slides are the second most frequent type of playground injury. (Fiissel et al, Inj. Preve. 2005;11;337-339)
Slides are a great an example of how Bienenstock mitigates harm while maintaining some of a playground’s most-loved features. In our playgrounds we have eliminated the number one cause of injuries (monkey bars) and modified the second most frequent cause of injuries (slides), by placing our slides in the sides of hills. By sculpting the hill to follow the shape of the slide, we have been able to decrease the critical fall height to 0mm (0”). With no fall height and a protective surfacing zone at the exit of the slide, we have been able to decrease the amount of impact attenuated surfacing required, which we consider a budgetary break that can be used for plantings and vegetation.
The Hill Slide is our signature component. Our Hill Slides are designed to comply with CAN/CSA and ASTM by following the multiple requirements of each section of a slide. Our favourite part of our Hill Slides is what we call the Hoop and Hoop Posts. Using vertical logs as the posts, we create a decorative hoop in order to channel children to sit before going down the slide. We use Slide Plantings to prevent erosion along the sides of the slides; these plantings conform to clearance zone rules and also create a pleasant aesthetic.
Our Natural Playgrounds consist of four different surfaces:
- Grass (only in areas where children will not trample it, unless it’s used in combination with Durolawn®, a product that prevents the crushing of roots and creates a protective surface)
- Sand (in sand surface areas)
- Mulch (the predominant surface for most areas)
- Paths (stone dust, asphalt, mulch paths)
CSA Standards require a "Drop Test" to determine if a surface is a "Protective Surface.”
- HIC (Head Injury Criteria): the measurement that determines severity of an impact to the head on the testing surface.
- Maximum HIC = 1000. An HIC of 1000 can result in a life threatening injury.
- gmax is the maximum allowable acceleration during impact.
- gmax = 200g is the maximum allowable acceleration during impact.
To be classified as a protective surfacing, the surface must achieve an HIC of less than 1000 and a gmax of less than 200 when tested from the defined fall height. Protective Surfacing must have a critical height (maximum allowable height of a potential fall) of at least the defined fall height of each piece of equipment in a playground. Critical height drop tests are measured from various heights depending on the equipment. In the CSA there are usually two different defined fall heights per piece of equipment, one for children aged 18 months to five years, and one for children aged five to 12 years. The ASTM also defines fall heights based on the age groups two to five years, and five years to 12 years.
Protective Surfacing does not have to be rubber or mulch; most soft, loose fill surfaces can meet the criteria of a protective surface if installed with sufficient depth. For example:
- Mulch and wood chips installed at 300mm (12") depths should be able to achieve a critical height of 3m.
- Engineered Wood Fibre (EWF) installed at 300mm (12”) depths should be able to achieve a critical height of greater than 3m.
- Even pea gravel and sand can be used as a protective surfacing as long as the correct depth and type is used.
The test is measured from two heights:
- 72.5cm (28.5") for children under five
- 95cm (37.5") for children six and up
- Mulch depth: 6-12" (15-30cm) of compact mulch depending on fall height.
- Rubber depth: ~3" of rubber depending on fall heights
- Standards recommend annual inspection.
At fall heights of 100mm and 1500mm, the lowest HIC is at the 120mm (5") and 150mm (6"_ depths of mulch respectively, thus indicating that even the recommended 300mm (12"_ depth may be overkill.) (A.H. Gunatilaka et al, Inj. Prev. 2004;10;174-170).
Because we use predominantly natural materials such as logs and vegetation, the number of sharp edges and protrusions is greatly minimized. All of our logs are sanded to eliminate sharp edges left over from old branches, and mitered to prevent sharp corners. All vegetation is selected to not only be native to the geographic area, but also have a distinct growing pattern and shape, which decreases the number of pointy branches and branching patterns that may create ocular hazards.