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Comments and clarifications about the news article by Deepa Bharath in the Sept. 18, 2014 issue of Irvine World News,
a weekly publication of the Orange County Register, Santa Ana, CA

Comments by Michael Baldwin, CPSI

Shortly after publishing the Sept. 8, 2014 News Article, "Are Our Playgrounds (and Industry-Related Fall Safety Standards) Really Safe?", the local Orange County Register newspaper initiated contact about running a story about playground safety, which was published in the Irvine World News. The article is available at the O.C. Register's website now if you're a paid subscriber or you choose to fill out a simple one question online survey, or you may access it after Sept. 25, 2014 (7 days after the publication date), simply Click on the image link to the left to open a new browser window displaying the OC Register's Irvine World News story.

Initial comments

When anyone unfamiliar with industry terminology writes an article after a brief interview, things can be taken out of context during the editing process, which is where errata and other inconsistencies are likely to occur. The purpose of this page is to provide clearer and more concise information to properly address the statements, questions and answers within the resulting news article, with the intent to dispel or avoid any potential confusion or misunderstandings as a result of external content beyond our direct control.

When contacted by the O.C. Register last week, it was explained they were doing a story about playground safety, right on the heels of and in response to the September 8, 2014 article published in this website. Not until well after the interview was there any mention of the story appearing in their weekly local city edition of Irvine World News. As can happen, a story morphs into something much different, such as becoming focused on playgrounds just in Irvine instead of playgrounds everywhere in general, which was really what the questions and responses were relating to. Only a small percentage of playground locations worked on have been in Irvine, with many ranging from Mexico to up throughout CA, with others in TX, MT, OH, KS and FL. Questions and answers were not specifically about Irvine, other than the response to the city of residence. After sending some playground photos to the OC Register, subsequent to the interview, was when the expected edition and date were provided for the first time.


The greatest desire here is the playground industry properly addressing the safety deficiencies within the currently existing acceptably unsafe thresholds of 1000 HIC and 200 Gmax levels for fall safety surfacing. These are not the thresholds at which serious injuries and deaths "start" to be likely to occur. It's been known by the playground industry for well over a decade that these thresholds are really 390 HIC for ages 1-3, 570 HIC for ages 4-5, and 700 HIC for ages 6 through adult, yet nothing has been done about it. This is covered in far greater detail in the Sept. 8, 2014 article, with citations, references, etc.

If all that's being done is providing just any convenient type of fall safety surfacing that meets the currently acceptable yet unsafe thresholds, they can exceed the real thresholds for a particular situation resulting in more children becoming seriously injured needlessly. The information from verifiable data after decades of conslusive scientific research should motivate those who possess the power and influence to assure fall safety standards get revised to realistic levels of proper fall safety, by age group.

A majority of playgrounds all over are likely to be unsafe in one way or another, because very few locations adequately budget for periodic inspections and maintenance as part of a well defined playground safety plan. When you couple this with the unsafe standards, more injuries are likely to occur. Data shows elevated falls on PIP are between 444% and 700% more likely to result in serious injury than on rubber mulch. In addition, when wood chips or EWF (Engineered Wood Fiber) get moist, fungus can effectively create a solid mass by knitting or binding together the material, resembling a thick and dense fibrous spider web-like material. At that point, it is likely that very little fall height protection remains.

Illnesses can be contracted from playground safety surfaces. If not disinfected regularly and properly, Poured-In-Place (PIP) can tend to harbor excessive microbes due to the retention of heat, air & moisture, which creates the perfect breeding ground for anything spilled, coughed, sneezed, or other substance percolating into this. Slime mold on wood chips isn't particularly dangerous or cause serious illness, it just looks really nasty. However, the by-products of termites, rodents and other things either living in or leaving things in wood chips or sand are unhealthful, especially if pathogens are involved.

The cracking and peeling of PIP isn't dangerous by itself, however the resulting patching of the surface can result in more dense concentration of liquid binder which can harden and significantly diminish the effective fall height protection, particularly in high use areas which have been repeatedly patched or even patched improperly just one time.

It needs to be understood that performing playground site fall surface testing can be expensive, and sometimes necessary in situations where it is deemed the safety surfacing is not performing to anticipated or necessary safety standards. Identifying performance deficiencies in this method can sometimes result in effectively executing more successful claims under surfacing manufacturer warranties, thereby mitigating remediation costs to the playground management entity while improving the fall safety. If not properly maintained, then the playground site owner/manager may end up with the full burden of responsibility to resolve the safety issues.

Even a quick inspection of the playground equipment and surfacing to make sure it's safe prior to play, along with proper supervision, could go a long way in minimizing more childhood injuries on playgrounds due to falls or unsafe equipment.



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