Free-Range Kids

Super Safe Playground Surfaces Still Not Safe Enough for Fans of More Regulations

New regulations proposed to make squishy soft playground surfaces even softer.

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Fulla T/flickr

Do we really have to re-surface every playground in America because they aren't safe enough?

Tim Gill, author of the blog "Rethinking Childhood," Bernard Spiegel, granddaddy of the idea of "beneficial risk," and Jay Beckwith, a venerated playground guru, are just some of the big names in the "play" world alerting us to potentially over-the-top new playground surface standards.

The American Society for Testing and Materials will vote on these standards as soon as March 4 — Wednesday! The rationale is that new surfacing will cut down on head injuries. But from Britain (which often follows our lead), Gill is begging us to debate the issue in public before deciding if such sweeping changes are really necessary.

The idea that suddenly we need to resurface all the playgrounds in America does strike me as strange. Children are not dying right and left on playgrounds. In fact, as Gill notes:

"Accident figures from the CDC suggest that in the decade 1990-2000, there was on average a single child fatality each year as a result of falls in American public playgrounds. By contrast, almost 1100 child vehicle passengers under 15 died in a single year…[and] around 700 children under 14 drown each year…

Studies also show that playground accidents rarely result in permanent brain injury. A 2004 World Health Organization review quotes two relevant studies. One states that 1.7% of school playground equipment-related injuries were concussions, and another suggests that fewer than 1% of the injuries in US daycare centers were concussions from playground falls…These figures raise serious questions about whether, given the overall goal of tackling child injuries, scarce taxpayer dollars are best spent on resurfacing playgrounds."

Two questions need to be answered: How much would the new surfacing cost to implement, and how cost-effective is it compared to other safety measures, like, say, hiring more park workers, so parents feel safe dropping their kids off? Or simply saving the funds for when and if we really need them?

I contacted the ASTM and got a letter back that said, "ASTM invites all interested parties to participate in the development of industry standards."

Generally, the "interested parties" seems to encompass only people in the playground industry. But I'd warrant that any of us with kids, or who pay taxes, are "interested parties," too.

NEXT: Steve Chapman on the Crazy Laws on the Insanity Defense

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  1. OT: The Nation is hilarious.

    “Why the Disturbingly Sane Voices at CPAC Should Scare You”

    Disturbingly sane.

    “This is bad news. One of the essential weaknesses of the GOP is the gap between their extremist base and the broader electorate. Their candidates have to feed red meat to the former without repelling the latter. When they fail, whether with Palin in 2008 or Todd Akin in 2012, they lose. As long as they can put a patina of reasonableness over their reaction, they have a chance.”

    Shorter The Nation: Republicans seem to be less crazy than they used to be. This terrifies and disturbs me.

    I also like the fact that when conservatives are being normal, this isn’t evidence that they are normal, but is rather a thin veneer of sanity that hides the grotesque writhings of the Elder Gods that must be occurring just beneath the surface.

    1. I guess the Democrats base is not at all extremist.

      1. I don’t think either party’s base is particularly extreme. They just make the most noise.

    2. That the DNC is ground zero for Marxism, Stalinism, Maoism, supporters of Pol Pot and members of the Shining Path should be overlooked?

      1. I don’t know about ground zero. DNC is still more about special favors to unions and other special interests that have attached themselves to the Ds than any ideology or consistent principle. Most college campuses, on the other hand…

    3. Shorter The Nation: Republicans seem to be less crazy than they used to be. This terrifies and disturbs me.

      Meanwhile The Nation is ignoring the fact that their “side” is going bat shit insane.

      I have a theory that if a political group is able to block their opponent’s speech, eventually the crazies are able to take over that group simply because no one is able voice opposition or even point out their crazy.

      In the 50s with McCarthy the conservative faction controlled speech and silenced opposition. In the end this backfired.

      Today with a million SJW’s it is the democrat faction which controls speech. No one is able to say boo without being called a racist.

      In the end this will backfire on them simply because it allows the crazies to take over (which the SJW’s and like have). Even if they don’t agree with them, most democrats I know tolerate the crazies simply because they are a good mechanism to silence and vilify the other “side”. But as they take over, the crazies will own them and paint them in a corner. We are already starting to see this.

      I don’t think The Nation fully gets this yet, but they are uneasy and it is why they are worried that the other “side” might start to look reasonable, their subconscious understands that they are crazy ones today.

  2. Generally, the “interested parties” seems to encompass only people in the playground industry.

    The way I read that is that some company came up with a new product, and they want the government to mandate its use.

    1. I, for one, COMPLETELY AGREE. If that company does not re-surface every playground in America right way, its owners and employees will be guilty of CHILD MURDER when, as their own statistics show, the tot death count will begin to mount. This is a national emergency. It is sad that the company must be required to work for free, at gunpoint if needed, but as thy have made clear this is a major national one company’s lost profits is a small price to pay to save the lives of precious children. Unless they hate children and want kids to die they will volunteer to resurface playgrounds immediately without the vile cupidity of demanding payment.

      Oh wait….The company dude just called. He said it’s not actually *that kind* of emergency…

  3. hiring more park workers, so parents feel safe dropping their kids off

    Oh, so now you want kids to be molested in addition to getting head injuries?

    Why do you hate our children, Lenore? WHY!?

  4. “Children are not dying right and left on playgrounds.”

    Except when shot by police officers …

  5. I contacted the ASTM and got a letter back that said, “ASTM invites all interested parties to participate in the development of industry standards.”

    Generally, the “interested parties” seems to encompass only people in the playground industry. But I’d warrant that any of us with kids, or who pay taxes, are “interested parties,” too.

    Let me guess. It’s like most industry standard processes where “invites all interested parties to participate” means “pay us membership fees, maybe get a chance to influence this new standard or get it shoved down your throat”.

  6. debate the issue in public

    How quaint. You may have noticed it doesn’t work that way anymore in America.

    1. “How quaint. You may have noticed it doesn’t work that way anymore in America.”

      Still waiting for the FCC to tell us what it’s going to do, are you?

    2. What about all those “national conversations on ____” that we’ve been having?

      1. They’re a waste of time? Nobody’s listening.

  7. ASTM should also issue new standards for bathtubs, to ensure that no tub will fill with more than 1/2 inch of water. For the children.

    1. Nah, still too dangerous. All children will be required to bathe by pouring water over themselves with a cup until they turn 26.

  8. Small m term in the mv^2 means that a child has to accelerate really fast to create the force necessary. Remember, a 60 lb child has to be going 9 times as fast to create the same force as a 180lb adult. Sure I can get a concussion just falling on the concrete. A 4 year old probably can’t.

    1. Plus, they are made of rubber.

    2. Your math is off, I think. Shouldn’t that be a square root of 3 (~1.73)factor?

      Still, it does mean kids can fall farther without hurting themselves. And they are just more resilient and heal faster.

      1. 3X

        The mass isn’t squared. Just the velocity.

        1. But we are talking about the speed at which you can hit the ground with the same energy:

          v1^2 = 3*v2^2
          v1 = sqrt(3)*v2

          I think I’ve got that right. The 60 lb adult can hit the ground 1.73 times faster than the 60 lb child, which is what Brett was originally talking about.

          1. v1 being the velocity that the child can safely fall at and v2 being the velocity that an adult can fall with the same kinetic energy. Possibly with a factor of 1/2 in there somewhere.

            1. So the Patriots footballs really did deflate due to a drop in temperature!

          2. But we are talking about the speed at which you can hit the ground with the same energy:

            Oops. Read it wrong. You’re right.

            RTFQ!

    3. while that math is true, there are major physiological differences between adults and children that make children far more susceptible to head injuries from falls than adults.

      Not saying it warrants children to wear helmets at all times or something. Just saying don’t go chucking children off a 45 foot drop just because you can survive a five foot fall.

  9. Playgrounds have already been completely ruined as far as I can tell, new surface or no. Seems like all of the cool stuff there used to be like large swing sets, metal monkey bars and slides and crazy tire things that you can spin on until you puke have been removed from most playgrounds.

    I’m not sure what is wrong with gravel or grass. A few cuts and scrapes are good for kids. And unless you make playground equipment completely boring, the occasional kid is going to hit his head or break something.

    1. There are metal monkey bars at playgrounds here in LA?

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  12. I recently found current photos of my old city swimming pool. No more high and low diving boards.

    Sad. Really, really sad.

    We’ve become a nation of diapered, cowardly sheeple.

    1. It is really depressing. Head injuries on playgrounds are clearly not a problem. So this is mostly about people freaking out because their kid skinned a knee or something (and playground equipment companies’ rent seeking). Which kids are fucking supposed to do. If you haven’t got some scratches and bruises, you are doing it wrong.

      1. We are raising a nation of pussies.

      2. My hometown had an awesome diving tower when I was a kid. They got rid of it after I left town because of the liability. Man there were a lot of good memories around that tower.

        Not only was it fun to jump off, but it was one of those rites of passage that meant you had become more than just a punk kid.

        How do today’s kids learn their limits? If they are constantly protected, how do they learn that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor?

  13. wow…what a cry-baby nation we’ve become…this is exactly what people like Mark Levin mean when they say our ‘FREEDOM is being taken”. Yes, you can go to these playgrounds BUT look at what we are forced to pay for and use–“squishy playgrounds”???? are they serious? This nation is finished IF the younger generation truly believes nonsense like this is OK….unbelievable…

  14. “…other safety measures, like, say, hiring more park workers, so parents feel safe dropping their kids off? ”

    Trust me — there ain’t enough money in the world to hire enough park workers to make parents feel safe enough to drop their kids off at the park.

  15. Oh yeah…and BTW…just because something is soft doesn’t mean it is injury free. I would bet you have more twisted ankles and dislocations when you make everything “softer” which equals less stable….idiot politicians and whining parents…

    1. The place I play indoor soccer at replaced the artificial turf with newer turf that has more padding to it.

      So many sprained ankles now.

  16. Softer surfaces just make the parks more dangerous. Okay, maybe concrete below the monkey bars isn’t a great idea, perhaps that’s why I ended up so addled in my dotage. But when the surface is so soft and squishy you can’t even walk on it, that’s dangerous. It induces stumbling. So you soften it even more for all the stumbles, until you get to the point that the playground is unusable and the children never get any exercise.

    1. And do not tell me the park is safe just because stats say an average human child will almost never be injured. The park cannot be considered “safe” unless NO child will EVER be injured. We must have zero tolerance for hurting children?unless you hate those born with skull defects?. Or, rather, disabilities – I mean those with special challenges, who are miraculous “different-ables.” #accessforall

    2. They want to make it that soft? That is just nuts. I was thinking maybe something like a very firm gym mat.

      They should just make one huge waterbed and get it all over with. That would actually give you some exercise trying to get across it.

      I remember back after many playgrounds had switched from just gravel to bark mulch, someone decided that mulch was too dangerous and some parks switched to synthetic rubbery mulch or synthetic turf, which ended up causing more friction burns and abrasions than mulch or gravel had.

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  19. Accident figures from the CDC suggest that in the decade 1990-2000, there was on average a single child fatality each year as a result of falls in American public playgrounds.

    Well, every time I take my son to the playground we are usually the only two people there.

    1. Therefore, extrapolating your experience to the whole country, your son is definitely going to die. That’s some rough luck.

      1. Someone arrest me!

  20. What I noticed on the last trip to the park with my son is that 10 year old boys throw baseballs like Europeans. Not one of those kids got his arm up anywhere near high enough. And they also couldn’t catch worth a damn. It was embarrassing. No wonder MLB imports half or more of their talent.

    1. Or just the lack of pick up games.

      When I was a kid, we had a million variations of baseball just so we could play with a few players (like 3 teams of 3, one team bats against the other two teams).

      Or any other pick up games (football or basketball). Fuck even the tennis courts are usually empty.

      1. I think this. They had 2 gloves and 4 guys. A perfect situation for Hot Box. I spent approximately every hour of daylight on a bike or throwing a ball between 6 and 13. Still, I was disappointed to see kids with their elbows down at their ribcage throwing a baseball.

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  23. An easy benchmark:
    The surfaces shall be no firmer than the heads of the regulators.
    Everyone stepping foot upon one of the playgrounds will be required to harness-up and connect a safety line in case of extreme sinkage.

  24. No child left with a bruised behind.

  25. If it is not needed, wanted or necessary you can make a safe bet the politicians will implement it.

  26. More kids die from finding and play with guns each year than die on playgrounds.

    1. More kids die in auto accidents each year than die playing with guns.

  27. Too soft of a surface will cause trips and falls. Even something as firm as a short pile berber carpet can cause broken ankles if used under a basketball hoop or other areas where people will be jumping and running.

    Gravel, grass, asphalt and concrete were the playground surfaces at the grade school I went to. I remember a couple of kids getting broken arms but nothing worse than that. Mostly just a scrape or bruise.

    When I first went there, the playground was an open grass field with a long row of swings with gravel under them. Between the swings and buildings was asphalt and concrete with various painted lines for games of dodgeball, hop-scotch and others. There were also a couple of tetherball poles and a steel jungle-gym.

    Then it was decided some more equipment was needed, built of wooden poles, boards and some old wooden cable spools bolted into climbing towers. One of the broken arms was a boy who fell off an angled pole with one end atop a cable spool.

    Knowing with certainty that doing something dumb *would hurt* kept us safer.

    Some years after I was out of that school, all the old stuff was gone, replaced with brightly colored, plastic and padded equipment and rubber surface everywhere.

  28. Safe playground surfaces? It’s amazing that so many of my fellow baby boomers and I survived playing on dirt, grass, and cinder covered play grounds.

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