When it comes to outdoor play areas in Early Childhood Education (ECE) settings, it's important to have safe and appropriate surfaces for children to play on. Synthetic softfall surfaces are a popular choice because they provide a cushioned landing area in case of falls, which is especially important for young children who are still developing their motor skills. Many softfall surfaces also come with an impact-attenuating underlay or shockpad to further reduce the risk of injury.
However, not all softfall installations are created equal. Over time, synthetic materials can degrade due to weathering and UV exposure, which can cause a loss of impact performance. Additionally, if the equipment fall height exceeds the capacity of the softfall surface, it may not provide adequate protection against head injuries. Shockpad performance issues can also contribute to impact performance failures.
To ensure the safety of ECE play areas, licensed services have a responsibility to make sure that any softfall surfacing meets the relevant criteria for impact attenuation. This means complying with the standards set out in NZS5828/EN1176 and EN1177, as well as the Ministry of Education Premises and facilities Criterion 5 framework, which requires surfaces to be safe and suitable for their intended use.
One way to verify that a softfall surface provides adequate impact performance is to conduct an impact test. This test measures the severity of impact using a metric called Head Injury Criteria (HIC). The upper limit for HIC is 1000, which is the threshold for brain injury severity. The test also measures gmax, which is the peak acceleration of the head during impact. The maximum gmax allowed is 200. Specialized portable equipment is used to conduct the test, which involves dropping a weight from a specified height onto the softfall surface and measuring the resulting impact.
To maintain safety standards, it's recommended to conduct an impact test every 2 years to ensure that the softfall surface still provides adequate protection against head injuries. This is an important step in ensuring the safety of young children in ECE play areas.
Playsafe conducts Impact Attenuation tests on synthetic softfall surfaces - Click her to find out more or Book your test: https://www.playsafe.co.nz/surface-impact-test